HL Deb 05 August 1918 vol 31 cc533-46

[The reference are to Bill 72.]

Clause 1, page line 15, leave out from ("that") to ("the") in line, 28 and insert ("(a) if on or after the twenty-first day of August, nineteen hundred and Eighteen, any person is wilder the said powers served with a notice determining Its tenancy of any land, or with a notice which required any change in the mode of cultivating or in the use of land in his occupation and is not solely for the purpose of securing that the, land shall be cultivated according, to the rules of good husbandry".).

Page 2, line 8, after ("and") insert as a new paragraph: (c) before possession is taken under the said powers on or after the said date of any land for the purpose of securing any change in the mode of cultivating or in the use of the land other than the conversion of the land into gardens or allotments, notice, of intention to take such possession shall, unless the notice is served solely for the purpose of securing that the land shall be cultivated according, to the rules of good husbandry, be served on tile, owner and occupier of the land if they can reasonably be ascertained, and the proviso to subsection (1) of section nine of this Act shall apply as if the notice had been served under the powers conferred by that section; and

Page 2, line 9, after ("where") insert ("before or after the passing of this Act") and leave out ("is") and insert ("has been or shall be")

Page 2, lines 10 and 11, leave out ("said regulations") and insert ("powers continued in operation by this subsection")

Page 2, line 16, after ("Act") insert ("except in any case m which the compensation has been otherwise determined")

Page 2, line 19, leave out from ("1917") to end of line 20.


My Lords, I think probably it will be for the convenience of your Lordships and save the time of the House if I say a word about all these Amendments together. To make them clear I shall have to refer to what happened in your Lordships' House at the time this Bill was being considered in Committee and also on Second Reading. The object of the measure is to continue powers under the Defence of the Realm Act in connection with Food production, which would have elapsed this year, and allowed the Corn Production Bill to take their place; but in the Second Reading debate it was obvious that Your Lordships, or at all events a great many of your Lordships, did not, wish the powers to be continued, and a debate revolved very largely round three points. The first was that compensation should be granted as a matter of right for loss or damage in connection with Orders for food production, and secondly with regard to appeals both against Orders for improved cultivation as well as appeals against Orders for the use of the land, which we generally call Ploughing-up Orders. To meet these objections I put down certain Amendments giving the compensation and the appeals as they would have been allowed tinder the Corn Production Act. When we came into Committee your Lordships negatived my Amendments for the purposes of reinserting them and enlarging their scope. You provided the compensation and appeals as I had proposed, and in addition you provided, what was not in the Corn Production Act—namely, for notices for land taken and appeals from Orders in connection with land for allotments.

It was in that position that the measure went down to the other House. There it suffered considerable alteration, but in substance it comes back to us not in a very changed condition, except perhaps in one respect—that is to say, the compensation for loss or damage is allowed and it is extended beyond what your Lordships asked for in so far as it applies to loss or damage from the commencement of the powers last year in so far as they have not been previously settled. In addition it allows appeals against Ploughing-up Orders, but it disallows notices in connection with allotments, and it alters the appeal in regard to Orders to enforce the rules of good husbandry. That is to say, the Board retains the powers to enforce without appeal, but they have decided that an appeal can fairly be granted against any determination of the lease on the ground of Orders for good husbandry. In so far as that appeal goes. I apprehend that it will not arouse opposition in this House. I think it was understood that these rules of good husbandry have got to be enforced in order to get proper cultivation of the land. It is necessary to use the powers very quickly, otherwise a crop may be spoilt, and the fact that a tenant cannot he turned away for this purpose without appeal removes any hardship which there might have been if the original proposal had been retained.

The provision with regard to allotments is, I think, still a matter of contention in this House, but the Government are satisfied that it is necessary to retain the power of providing allotments at short notice. Allotments have been of great and proved value to the country in producing large quantities of food. They are emergency allotments only and are not to be confounded with the ordinary allotment scheme. They are to last for the war or two years longer. It is exceedingly important to retain them. They enable us to utilise part-time labour which probably could not be utilised in any other way. It is the labour of men, largely in cities, who are occupied in other pursuits during the (lay but are willing to give up their evenings to the cultivation of allotments. It is very important to the nation that we should retain these services in the cultivation of land. We are perfectly aware, from the experience we have had of allotments in the past year, that the demand is very great, that it is increasing, and that it is exceedingly important to give the allotments as and when they are actually required. They are usually, and almost entirely, in urban districts in the vicinity of large cities. The amount taken in the rural districts is very small in the actual amount of land, although a very large number of holders are accommodated, and the Government are satisfied that in the interests of food production it is essential to continue these powers.

I think your Lordships have gained a very great deal in the requests that you have made, largely in the interests of tenant farmers. Great concessions have been given and in my opinion perfectly justifiable concessions. In the course of the past year farmers have done exceedingly well for the nation and I am certain that they will do as well as it is possible for them to do in the future, but we have got to realise that they will do that under very much greater difficulties—difficulties owing to shortage of labour, and to the price and shortage of manures and feeding stuffs, and it is no time to be unduly optimistic about the future. No one can realise or estimate what the effect of these difficulties will be upon the next harvest. We can afford to relax no efforts at all, and it is essential we should get out of the land every ounce it is capable of giving to the country. I hope your Lordships, recognising that you have got nearly all you asked for, will realise that we are retaining no powers that we can do without. I hope you will rest satisfied with what you have got and not attempt to press the Government beyond the limits which they consider are safe in the interests of the country.

Moved, That the Commons Amendments be now considered.—(Lord Clinton.)


As I was, I suppose, in the first instance somewhat responsible for these changes, and I think I can almost venture to call them improvements, which have taken place in this extraordinarily short Bill of sixteen words, I hope I may be allowed to say one word with regard to the Bill. It is true, as the noble Lord has said, that we have got three things since the Bill was last in this House. We are grateful for them, and I think a great deal is due to the fact that the rejection of this Bill was moved in this House on the Second Reading. I repeat that we have got three things—the right of appeal to an independent arbitrator in the case of ploughing-up; the fact that no longer can a tenant farmer be turned out of his holding at a moment's notice, without even notice or without having a right of being heard under the Agricultural Holdings Act, and, in default of agreement, an independent arbitrator. We also got a very important concession in regard to the question of compensation. Under the Defence of the Realm Act, compensation is all act of grace, but under Part IV of this Bill compensation will be a right. We are duly grateful for all these concessions.

I can also say this that the war agricultural committees generally throughout the country have performed a task of very great difficulty in a very great many cases, with a very great deal of consideration. I do not say for a single moment that that applies to all war agricultural committees, or to all those who are employed by war agricultural committees. I should be sorry to think that those were my views. But I do know of cases in which farmers of experience on the war agricultural committees, when they have had to carry out their unpleasant duties, have actually given the benefit of their experience to those less-experienced cultivators of the soil who have had to plough up their land and have told them how they might expect to get the best results from the orders they are compelled to carry out. These are three important points conceded by the Government, and they are in the Bill now as it comes to us from another place.

There are two points on which those in this House who think with me have not been so successful. There is to be no right of appeal in the case of allotments and gardens, but at present under Regulation 2 L the right of taking allotments is confined to urban authorities. The three authorities mentioned in the Regulation are the County Council of London, municipal boroughs and urban district councils. It seems to be in the mind of the Government that the land they hope to get for allotments is not rural land, but land in the neighbourhood of towns. I venture to hope that as these bodies, which, I think, are not very experienced in matters agriculture, are going to be entrusted with these powers, they will exercise them with great discretion. It. is rather hard, and I think also it is hardly civil, to turn out a man who may be the best cultivator of the best land in the district, as you are taking powers to do, without the civility of serving a notice and giving him the right to be heard by an independent authority.

This is not only a drastic power, but it may be very harmful to the best interests of agriculture. It is not a question of the farm being badly farmed. It may be farmed in the very best manner of the district, but still, in some circumstances, if the land is wanted for allotments and gardens, out he goes without notice. I hope these powers will be used with the greatest possible circumspection, because of the fact that they are going to be exercised by those who do not know very much about agriculture, and those who may. unwittingly, by taking twenty or thirty acres of a 200 acre farm, destroy the pro- ducing capacity of the rest of that farm to a great degree. I am sorry there is no appeal on the matter. I think the tenant who is farming to the best of his ability should have the right to be heard, but I do not propose to move an Amendment oil that matter.

Then we have also no appeal on what some people think is bad cultivation. There is very often a difference of opinion about that. We had a strong difference of opinion only the other day between two noble Lords in this House. A county war agricultural committee said a noble Lord's land was nothing but thistles and bushes but on the other hand, the noble Lord produced evidence from high agricultural authorities saving that he was threshing his wheat out six quarters to the acre. He produced a flattering report of the farm which was apparently a model. There was a difference of opinion, and an arbitrator would have been useful.

As regards bad farming generally these people who go round to see the farms are neighbouring farmers, as a rule, and they may be friendly or they may not be particularly friendly to the farmer. Whether they are friendly or hostile, I venture to think that an appeal would be a very useful thing. For one reason, I think a man would be very much more likely—and this argument has been used elsewhere—to condemn bad farming if he knew that his decision was not absolutely irrevocable, and that the man whose farm was condemned had the right to be heard by an independent authority. I do not approve—I cannot be expected to approve—of the action of His Majesty's Government, either in regard to allotments or to the question of bad farming, but I do not propose to move an Amendment with regard to either.

I should like to express my gratitude to the Government for the large steps they have taken to meet me. Another point has been raised ill this House as to the ploughing up of land and moving on. I have been round Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and I can only say that in the wild prairie land they have given up that idea. They have instructional farms which try to inculcate in the agriculturists of those countries the idea that in order to get the best result from land you must adopt something like the British four course system. Therefore, I hope that idea will not be pursued any more. With regard to the general question of ploughing up grass, the question is, "Is the price which the farmer is going to get, as a return on this newly-ploughed up land, sufficient to keep that land in cultivation, or is it not?" If not, that land will assuredly go back and lay itself down again to grass. It will "tumble down," as they say, as it did in the eighties, and it is merely a question of the price of the produce. The Government may say we can guarantee the price that will pay the farmer and the new wages on the agricultural land, so that that land will be kept in cultivation.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill that he has made concessions which are by no means inconsiderable, and I am glad to think that my noble friend, in what he has said, agrees with that view also. So far as I am concerned, I have only one question to ask and one suggestion to make. I observe that the notices which are to be given are to be served on the owner and occupier of the land "if they can reasonably be ascertained." Is there any real difficulty in this matter? Are these words absolutely necessary? I should have thought that it would not be difficult to ascertain who are the owners and occupiers in all cases. I only submit that for the consideration of the noble Lord. One thing I should like to ask him to do. These Amendments required some careful study before it was made clear to me what they really meant. I hope the noble Lord will see that the Board of Agriculture, when this Bill has become law, as it will do, no doubt, directly, will cause a statement to be made by that Department as to the precise effect of these Amendments, in language which farmers and all people concerned will be able to understand. If he will do that then I think they will find out very quickly that greater concessions have been made by the Government in this particular respect than they were aware of.


My Lords, I cannot help thinking that your Lordships may well accept the proposals which the Government have now put before us. To my mind there is only one standard by which we can judge them, or judge any other proposal—Are they, or are they not, necessary in order to keep up the food supply of the country? As to that I have noted, as I am sure most of your Lordships must have noted, the many warnings which have been given us (by Lord Selborne, amongst others) against a tendency to take too sanguine a view of our power to make ourselves self-sustaining during the remainder of this war. I understand—for the drafting of these Amendments is a little bit intricate—that with regard to two points, His Majesty's Government desire to retain the prompter and more stringent procedure provided by the Defence of the Realm Regulation Act, rather than the procedure laid down by the Corn Production Act.

What are those two particulars? There is, in the first place, the question of allotments and. in the next place, the question of the infraction of the rules of good husbandry. I think it has been made abundantly clear that in regard to the provision of allotments it is necessary, until the end of the war, that the Government should retain the power of dealing much more promptly and expeditiously with the matter than they can under the Small Holdings Act. With regard to infractions of the rules of good husbandry, there it scents to me perfectly obvious that if wasteful and neglectful treatment of the land is to be held in cheek you must have a prompt and expeditious remedy. It is no use, if a farmer is allowing his fields to be covered with weeds having a procedure which may take you weeks or months to enforce, and. therefore in regard to these two particulars I think His Majesty's Government are justified in asking to retain the sterner procedure of the Defence of the Realm Regulation Act.

Some doubt has been expressed. I think Lord Desborough expressed it as to the trustworthiness of the war agricultural executive committees. I am far from suggesting that they are all infallible. I take it that they differ very much from one another, but, on the whole, they seem to be a tribunal the verdict of which an average farmer would probably be content enough to accept in regard to such a question as the neglectful treatment of his land. I should like to support what Lord Chaplin said a moment ago as to the necessity of publishing some kind of explanatory document to make quite obvious to all concerned what the real effect of these provisions will be. They are not very easy even for those of us who have been following this question to understand, and I am sure that without further explanation the ordinary farmer will be much puzzled by them.


My Lords, it seems to me one thing has been made plain by the admission of the Government, that so far as ploughing up more pasture land is concerned they consider it is no longer necessary.


I do not think the noble Lord should say that. It is very necessary although, unfortunately, it cannot be carried out owing to the shortage of labour.


That of course makes it a little different. If it was necessary to plough up more pasture land, as the noble Lord says, surely it was not necessary to take away these 30,000 "key" men. I do not really know what the noble Lord is driving at. First of all he says it is known that these men are taken away from agriculture, and then he says it is nothing of the kind.


I did not say there was no necessity to ploughing up more pasture land. There is a great necessity for it, but the nun have been taken away and it cannot be done.


Then why did you take away 30,000 men from agriculture, because 30,000 men cannot make all the difference between losing and winning the war. That is quite evident, otherwise you would have taken more men out of protected industries, such as coal mining. The noble Lord also said that it was only an emergency matter, to last during the continuance of the war. He must be perfectly aware that there is a strong movement on foot to demand that these allotments, which have been granted during the war, should be made permanent, or at least should be held for a year or two after the war, if not entirely. There will be a very large demand for them. I have not the slightest objection to allotments. I am one of those who have fought for allotments, when some noble Lords opposite did till in their power to prevent allotments being taken by compulsion. The Party to which I belong have always admitted the fairness of an appeal, and that the local authority ought not to be judge and jury in its own case. All that was asked by this Amendment was that there should be an appeal to an independent authority. There seems to be nothing unfair, or unjust, in that. On the other matter I have been told of a local authority descending on the land of a farmer and taking away part of his home farm for allotment purposes. The noble Lord will know that there cannot be a greater discomfort or inconvenience than to interfere with the homeland immediately round the homestead. I think there should be an appeal where action such as that is taken. These executive bodies are not popularly elected, but are composed of gentlemen appointed by the President of the Board of Agriculture himself.

With regard to what Lord Chaplain and Lord Lansdowne have said as to a statement being published, I hope at the same time as instructions are sent to the war executive committees they will be warned that in taking land for allotments, as there is no appeal, great discretion ought to be used. I agree that you way have to do some injustice in finding allotments for those who live close to great towns; at the same time, as there is no appeal, I think the war executive committees ought to be warned that in these cases they should be very particular indeed to see that justice is done, and not on account of a little agitation deprive a man of one of the most useful pieces of land on his farm, thus making it more difficult for him to increase his own production.


I want to ask the noble Lord one question. I am not one of those who hold optimistic views that the war may end in March, 1919. A great many things may happen before the end of the war, and these powers which, apparently, are only delegated to certain urban and municipal people, may be delegated to other smaller bodies. They might be delegated to rural district councils or parish councils. What I want to ask the noble Lord is this. If any case like that happened, could there be some instruction or something of a legal nature to prevent say a field of lucern which had been planted a couple of years or three years and was in full crop, perhaps next door to a dairy, being peremptorily taken for allotments without any appeal. It is a case which the noble Lord will probably say is not likely to happen. I agree; but there is no safeguard, and nothing to stop it happening.


Lords, I have only one thing that I should like to say at the concluding stage of this Bill. When we were in Committee my noble friend Lord Clinton, in putting down the Amendments that he did for the reasons he then gave, stated that in his opinion any appeal against an Order in respect of acts of good husbandry was really detrimental to the public interest, because time did not permit, and the Orders were of such a kind as really not to call for an appeal. At that time I rather scoffed at my noble friend, and said that I did not think the delays which he feared would ensue from the adoption of the Amendment that was then under discussion by your Lordships, but it is only fair to my noble friend that I should state now that in my opinion he was right and I was wrong. I have been in communication with almost all the agricultural war executive committees, either directly or indirectly, and their testimony is absolutely unanimous that it would be impossible for them to continue to do the work that they have done on the whole so admirably if an appeal had stood on an Order in respect of an act of good husbandry. That being the case, and my conversion being sincere, I thought it only fair to my noble friend that I should come here and say so.


My Lords, I do not wish to stand between your Lordships and dinner, but perhaps I may be permitted to express my deep relief and satisfaction that your Lordships have been willing to give way, partially at any rate, with regard to this matter of Cultivation orders. I regret that I had found it necessary to attempt to focus attention upon this question in somewhat forcible manner, but really it was so vital to the success of the whole food production movement that, if your Lordships had not been willing to give way upon this point, I believe that you would have brought the whole of the agricultural executive committees, so far as their usefulness, indeed their existence, is concerned, to an end. My noble friend Lord Selborne has referred to these representations. I can assure your Lordships that the continual protests which I have received with regard to this matter were such as would have more than justified the resignation of any one responsible for the administration of this policy if the modification had not been made. I must express my thankfulness, therefore, that the action which I took has not been altogether fruitless, and that something at any rate has been saved from the wreck. I go further and deeply regret that the Government should have given up the 1919 programme of increased food production. I do not agree with my noble friend that it was in any sense impossible to carry it on owing to the shortage of labour. I think that it could and should have been carried on, but in that matter the Government has taken its course.

I have only one other point, and that is to ask my noble friend Lord Clinton a question of which I have given him notice—Whether there is any obstacle, and if so what, to the publication of the Report of the Director-General of Food Production? It was prepared and ready for issue before I resigned that office. The Report was completed and set up in type. It contains the whole story of the food production movement for the years 1917 and 1918. There is nothing whatever confidential in it, as is shown by the fact that it was not only circulated throughout the Food Production Department and the Board of Agriculture, but was supplied by the President of the Board to the Ministry of Information for the use of the Dominion and Commonwealth correspondents in this country, in order that they should be fully acquainted with what had been going on in the way of food production. I venture to express the hope that the Report may new be circulated for two reasons. One is that I understand it is the wish of your Lordships' House, as expressed pretty strongly on the occasion of Lord Russell's Motion the other clay, that some information should be given to the public, and to your Lordships, about those high officials who control the public. Lord Russell referred especially to the Food Production Department, and spoke of its Controllers. He said that the public ought to be given some information with regard to their activities. The fullest information, under the name of each one of the Controllers of this Department, is given in the appendices of this Report, and it would be only common justice to these distinguished gentlemen (mostly volunteers) who have laboured incessantly and devotedly for the last eighteen months, that something should be known of the work which they have done. I think that it is the more necessary because tin President of the Board of Agriculture, in the full statement which he made in the House of Commons the other day, did not mention the names of any of these gentlemen, and with all respect, I thought that he was somewhat too apologetic about the work that had been done. It is true that this Report, which consists of some fifty pages, is prefaced by a short Report by myself as Director-General, but I am perfectly willing that that portion should be excised or repressed if it is desired. I think, however, that the appendices ought now to be made available for the information of your Lordships and of the general public, and I shall be glad if my noble friend can give me any information on the subject.


In reply to the noble Lord who has asked that his Report should be published, and who was good enough to give me private notice of this question, I have ascertained that the matter has been considered, but that in consequence of the recommendation of the Public Retrenchment Committee the President of the Board had suspended the publication of the Reports made to him by the heads of the different Departments, with the exception, of course, of those which are required to be published by Statute. It is proposed to publish a resumé of all the other Reports in the Journal, and the report of the noble Lord is under consideration for that purpose.

The noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, and Also the noble Marquess below the gangway, asked that a statement as to the precise effect of the Amendments that have now been made to this Bill should be published, or in some way made known to the farmers. I am quite certain that this is a good idea, and I will bring it to the notice of my right lion, friend to-morrow. The noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, has asked me a question about his fear that good crops may be ploughed up for the sake of allotments. I do not want to take up your Lordships' time by going into that matter, but I think I can assure him that there really is no danger of that whatever.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments.—(Lord Clinton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[From Minutes of August 2.]