§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (LORD CLINTON)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading 347 of this measure I may explain that its main object is to provide for an enlargement of the area of land which the Bill of 1916 authorised the county councils in England and Scotland to acquire for the purpose of small holding colonies. The area allowed under the principal Bill was 6,000 acres in the case of England and Wales, and 2,000 acres in the case of Scotland. This having now been within a few acres exhausted, power is required for an additional amount of land to go on with. The House is now asked to grant power for 60,000 acres in the case of England and Wale and 20,000 in the case of Scotland, making 80,000 acres altogether. This is a tenfold increase upon the original measure, but I do not think your Lordships may describe it as a very large increase considering the modest nature of the original Bill, and the very important object for which it was passed.
The scheme was an experiment in the system of small holding colonies, particularly with a view to ascertaining how far such colonies would be suitable for the settlement of sailors and soldiers on demobilisation. It is, of course, admitted that there is a great obligation on the part of the nation towards these men—an obligation which is shared, I think, fully by the individuals of the nation—to see that all possible provision is made to ensure that they are given a full opportunity of earning a decent livelihood. There may be, and I think there are, many methods under the consideration of the Government for this end. Your Lordships in this Bill are asked to deal only with really a small part of one method.
Among the men themselves there will undoubtedly be very different ideas as to how they are to make their living. There will be, we believe, a considerable number who have businesses of their own to go to; there will be also, we hope, a large number whose occupations have been kept open for them; but there will still be, we anticipate, a large number of men who will rather naturally turn their eyes towards the land. These men probably will not be satisfied with the ordinary life of a farm-labourer, vastly as that life has improved since the war began, and it is probable that they will want something with better prospects than that life can give. There will be, no doubt, many with a former experience of agriculture, and probably 348 with capital of their own, who will be able to get small holdings or access to the land in some way on very ordinary methods. There will be some, let us hope, who will be able to get them through the agency of county councils. I think that it is very much to be regretted that the powers of county councils in these respects are now lying dormant. I know, at all events, that it is the view of the Board that it is important that these powers should be revived with as little delay as possible. There are difficulties at the present moment, largely in the direction of raising money, which prevent the free exercise of these powers by the county councils; but the Board of Agriculture, in view of the most valuable services that county councils have rendered in the direction of schemes of small holdings in the past, would welcome their assistance in these measures in every way possible.
Apart from those men who will be able to take advantage of land by the more ordinary methods, there are no doubt a good many who have had no great experience on the land in the past, but who, having led the most active of outdoor existences during the last few years, will no longer see much attraction in the desk, or the office, or in towns, and will be anxious to lead a life in the country. I think that men such as these would in small holding colonies get advice and assistance and demonstrations, and possibly various forms of co-operation in method and training. In these and in other ways these colonies may be very effective.
No doubt your Lordships are aware that the Oversea Dominions are formulating—I think actually have formulated—broad and very generous schemes to assist in the settlement of ex-Service men. Such schemes in those great countries, which are sparsely populated and have large areas of undeveloped land, can proceed without the same difficulty that is bound to confront us in schemes of the same nature in England. They can proceed on much easier lines, and avoid the disturbance of existing interests, particularly of existing tenancies, which disturbance is, I think, the most regrettable and the most unfortunate feature of all legislation of this kind. We, of course, heartily welcome the Dominions in the great effort that they are making. They are helping to solve the problem which otherwise in many respects might be almost insoluble. At the same 349 time, we believe that no man should be compelled to go overseas because no provision in the way of access to land has been attempted in order to assist him in this country.
I think there is need to move quickly in this matter. It is important for the. State itself that it should be known that it has some formulated scheme in view. It is important also for the men themselves that they should know that attention is being paid to their future, and, above all, it is most important for the scheme itself that plenty of time should be given for its preparation and working out before the emergency for which it is to provide is actually upon us. We want to make haste at the beginning so that we are not let into all the difficulties and extravagancies which making haste actually at the moment when the scheme is required would most certainly entail upon us. Every one of your Lordships knows, in the domain of your own estates and in your work on the small holdings committees of county councils, the delays which are absolutely inseparable from the acquisition and the rearrangement of land; and even after the land is acquired the difficulties are largely increased owing to the circumstances of the present moment in altering buildings, in drainage, water courses, and water supplies, and all the host of things which have to be done to make holdings suitable for a new type of tenant. Delays, of course, have occurred, and are bound to have occurred, in the carrying out of the schemes of which the Board has already had charge.
I do not suppose that your Lordships would wish me to go into detail about those Schemes. I understand that one part has already been the subject of debate in your Lordships' House. I think we may say that up to the end of the year, when the Waite Paper describing the results of the working of the Board was presented to Parliament, the Board have come into possession of two estates under lease from the Grown. There was one at Patrington of 2,000 odd acres, of which the Board got possession in April, 1917, and the small estate of Holbeach in September, 1917. With regard to the estate at Patrington, it was intended originally for the small holding colonies scheme, but for reasons which seemed good to the Board, and which were approved by the Treasury, the arrangement has been, perhaps temporarily, altered, and the estate is now being worked 350 as a single large farm on a profit-sharing basis. A large amount of building has been done there. Some thirty cottages have already been built, and other arrangements have been made for working the land. The estate of Holbeach, of which the Board has been in possession for three months, is probably a very valuable estate for die purpose. It consists of about 1,000 acres, all of which are suitable for market gardening purposes. Both of these estates Lad been leased from the Crown. Two estates have been purchased—Heath Hall in Shropshire, and Pembrey in Carmarthenshire. The former the Board took possession of at Lady Day this year, and the latter in Carmarthen they will get possession of in September of this year.
This rather points the moral of what I have been trying to impress upon your Lordships—namely, the need to pass this Bill and to move quickly, if we are to move at all, because these delays are inseparable to the acquirement and rearranging of land, and also because they are made still more lengthy and difficult by the abnormal times in which we are living. I commend this Bill because I believe it is important that this land should be obtained. I do not suggest that it is in any sense a fulfilment of the obligation which the State has towards the men who have served us abroad; in fact, it does very little more than touch the fringe of the question; but it should be passed even if it is only a beginning. It gives the country something in hand to deal with, so that arrangements may be made ready for the moment of demobilisation when the emergency will arise. I consider that this Bill will serve at all events to fill a useful gap until all the arrangements for a much larger scheme which it is understood the Government have in view have been completed. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Clinton.)
§ LORD STRACHIE had given notice, on the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to move to leave out all the words after ("That") for the purpose of inserting the words "this House regrets that the Bill contains no provision for the creation under the Bill of small holdings colonies by or through the agency of county councils."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I be allowed, in the first place, to con- 351 gratulate the noble Lord upon his appointment as Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Agriculture, and may I further say, as a West-countryman, how we welcome the appointment of one of the greatest landowners in the West of England to represent agriculture in this House, because we feel that we shall have some sympathy at least for the West of England for our particular interests, which we have not always had in the past.
I venture to think that this Bill is really not necessary. I should like to remind your Lordships that only last February you accepted a Motion which I moved on behalf of the County Councils Association to the following effect—
That in view of the large and increasing demand for land for small holdings, it is desirable that the Government should modify their present policy so as to meet the large and growing demand for land on the part of discharged soldiers and others.
If the Government had acted upon that Motion, which your Lordships unanimously passed, this Bill would not have been necessary, because the county councils are both willing and able and have all the knowledge as well as the ability to carry out the very scheme which the noble Lord has proposed, if the Government would not stand in the way of their doing it. They have, time after time, expressed their willingness to settle soldiers upon the land, either in colonies or upon the usual system, but time after time the Government have refused them any opportunity of buying land, even though the present is a most favourable time for doing so.
What, as a matter of fact, have the Government done under the Act of 1916, which granted 8,000 acres, which the noble Lord in his Bill proposes should be made 80,000 acres? If we look at the Report that has lately been issued by the Board of Agriculture under Section 10 of the Act it does not appear that the Board have been very successful so far in their undertakings, because they have actually settled upon the land only twenty-six discharged soldiers out of only 257 applicants. Even the applicants, therefore, were very small in number. Since the Act of 1916 was passed the cost has been £46,740. That has been for the colony alone, which the noble Lord has told us as a colony has become a failure, and it is necessary to turn it into one great farm in which labourers are employed on the co-operative system
and—if I am not mistaken in what is said in the Report—paid low wages. This sum of £46,740 was not for buying the land; it was simply for the equipment of some 3,000 acres, and out of that no purchase money or rent has been paid. This experience, therefore, does not justify the Board of Agriculture in applying for a large extension of land under the Act of 1916. The principal inducement when you were asked to pass that Act—and a very right inducement—was that it would be of benefit to discharged and wounded soldiers. Even at this large expenditure and even with only twenty-six soldiers settled, I am sure that your Lordships would feel that the experiment had been justified if this had been done in the interests of wounded men especially and those disabled from disease. But what do the Board of Agriculture say in their Report about the objects of this Act? They refer to these colonies, and say—
A considerable degree of misconception has been found to exist in regard to the scope of the scheme which the Board are called upon to consider under the Act, and it may be desirable to point out that, while the Board hope to be able to find employment for a certain number of disabled men, yet the latter can form only a very small proportion of the ultimate settlers, as the colonies were not intended to make provision for disabled men as such, but to ascertain by actual experiment how far small holdings grouped on the colony system on the lines recommended in the Report of the Departmental Committee can be successfully organized.
Surely it was not necessary to have a Bill for that purpose. We have already got the colony system very successfully carried out by county councils. There is a very successful scheme in Cheshire where the Cheshire County Council have established a colony at Ledsham for 853 acres, where the rent of £2,000 a year is paid and the equipment was only £11,000, and the price of the whole of the colony £35,000. I am given to understand that it has been a great succsss, that the population of the district has been increased by 130, and that good men all over the country have been anxious to settle there. If that colony has been a success, why was it necessary for the Board of Agriculture to say in their Report that the principal object of establishing this scheme is to provide some pioneer of the colony system?
§ Then I think it is most unfortunate that the Board say in their Report that though the claims of disabled men will always receive sympathetic consideration the first 353 consideration in the selection of applicants must be their prospective capacity for earning a living on the land. I thought that the great reason why the Board of Agriculture initiated this system was to provide hind for wounded men, and that, if need be, they should be men who under ordinary conditions would not be able to take up small holdings under county councils or the ordinary landlords. That does not seem to be the view of the Board of Agriculture in this Report. I cannot see that the speech of the noble Lord or anything in this Report justifies the increase of the area from 8,000 to 80,000 acres.
I cannot help thinking that this is only the thin edge of the wedge for a great Government scheme of nationalisation of land under the name of small holdings. Why do I think so? Because I notice that Sir Richard Winfrey, the very able, and very Radical, Under-Secretary of the Board of Agriculture, said the other day, that until the Government can introduce a much larger and more national scheme, this proposal was enough to go on with. When this Bill was discussed in another place nobody in the Rouse except the members of the Government had a good word to say for it, whether Conservative. Liberal, or Labour Members. Sir Charles Bathurst, who is well known to your Lordships as a practical agriculturist and one very much interested in this very question, because he was appointed by Lord Selborne, at the beginning to organise the whole of this scheme for ex-Service men, said this—
As the result of my experience I find it extremely difficult to commend this extended proposal… I am not at all satisfied that by simply multiplying the existing area by ten you are going to satisfy those prospective or would be settlers, or that you are going to carry out a scheme that is economically sound.
I think those words ought to carry a great deal of weight with your Lordships, knowing as you do what at an authority Sir Charles Bathurst is on this question. No doubt, like others, he has seen that this scheme, even the small scheme of 1916 with 8,000 acres, has so far been somewhat of a costly failure. Why should not the county councils have been entrusted with this business? It is very well to say that at first you might try the scheme as an experiment, and not leave it to the county councils, but now that you propose to have a very much larger scheme, why should not
the Government allow the county councils themselves, or acting as agents for the Board of Agriculture, to set up these colonies in their various localities? It goes without saying that the county councils have shown themselves able to provide land effectively and economically and without any loss.
§ Although some people objected to the Bill of 1908, which my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire carried so successfully through Parliament, all sides now agree that it has been a great success and has worked practically without any friction and most economically. May I give an instance of what happened in my own county of Somerset? There we have acquired an acreage of over 9,000 acres, with a rent roll of over £20,000 a year. The arrears are practically nothing, and the administration expenses have come to a little over £1,000, something like 5 per cent. I would say that no Government Department could work a land system upon those economical lines, or so efficiently. In this particular case we have seen that they have been unable to pay any rent at all, but luckily it is Crown property; therefore I suppose it does not matter. But why should not the county council administer this? They have been successful in the past; and the fact that they are local men with local knowledge and, consequently, in close touch with the settlers, is all to the good. I cannot see what possible reason there can be for not allowing the county councils in the future to do what they have so successfully done in the past.
I am all the more surprised at this Bill when I remember that the President of the Board of Agriculture, in reply to a county councils deputation only last November, said he was "entirely in favour of small holdings being administered by county councils," and he agreed "that the intervention of officials from Whitehall in the management of land, or the many questions arising from it, was not desirable." It seems very curious, when these are the views of the President of the Board of Agriculture, that we should have this proposal for setting up what practically means a great Department in Whitehall for the management of hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the country for small holdings. I say this because Sir Richard Winfrey, who had charge of this Bill in another place, in an interview in the
Observer not long ago, said, in reference to small holdings—
It is our object to make it possible for arty ex-Service men, so desirous, to settle on the land. Our experiment, sanctioned under the Small Bolding (Colonies) Act, 1916, has proved to be a conspicuous success, and we have now received sanction to extend our 8,000 acres to 80,000.
He goes on to say—
We shall develop these pioneer colonies, and we hope eventually to acquire 1,000,000 acres.
What will that mean? It will mean bureaucracy again; the establishment of a tremendous number of officials in the country with an enormous staff in London to carry out this work, instead of allowing the county councils to do it.
§ I should have thought that the Government were tired of new Offices. The other day a Member of Parliament said that he reckoned we were paying a sixpenny Income Tax for the upkeep of these new Offices and the officials in them. Public expenditure at the present moment seems to be practically controlled by this enormous army of officials who are only too glad to set up one new Government Department after another. It is true that a Committee has been appointed over which Mr. Samuel presides, but the only result of that Committee has been the appointment of two more Committees. We have at present a Ministry of Munitions—which has been very strongly commented upon by the Accountant-General—where there are 16,800 members of the central staff in London, costing nearly £3,000,000 a year; while the Office in Paris, appointed for a similar purpose, has only 2,000 persons employed in it. Again, it has been reckoned that there are now 94,000 Government officials, costing £13,000,000 a year and Mr. Samuel said the other day that there were 100,000 new Government officials in the country. Surely it is time to stop. But the first step in this connection is to have control of 1,000,000 acres of land and to set up another great Department, with more officials. It seems to me that the object of every Government Department is further to extend its scope and its officials, and to increase the burden placed on the unfortunate ratepayers. If there had been no Act passed such as the Small Holdings Act of 1908 there might be some argument in favour of placing men on the land. I am, of course, in agreement with that, and I think we ought to make sacrifices to that end, but when we have such capable bodies 356 as the county councils, who are carefully looked after by the Board of Agriculture, it is not necessary to go out of our way to set up another body to superintend settlement upon the land. The Board of Agriculture may wish to keep a certain amount of power in their own hands, but they should delegate most of their powers to the county councils instead of attempting to work the scheme from Whitehall. I beg to move.
To leave out all the words after ("That") for the purpose of inserting the words ("this House regrets that the Bill contains no provision for the creation under the Bill of small holdings colonies by or through the agency of county councils").—(Lord Strachie.)
My Lords, as I took some part in the debate with regard to the Small Holdings Bill two years ago and also that with regard to the Patrington colony the other day, I desire to say a few words with regard to this Bill. In the first place I should like, if I may, to congratulate my noble friend below me (Lord Clinton) on the position he is now occupying in your Lordships' House. I agree with my noble friend Lord Strachie that more justice ought to be done to county councils than has been done of late; because, while we have had some opportunities of acquiring land either by lease or by purchase which would be suitable for small holdings in our respective counties, we have been stopped at once by the refusal of any loan. If the Government are prepared to sanction large outlays for their own work they ought to give the county councils equal opportunities for development.
There are, I think, three very important factors which we ought to consider in connection with this Bill. First of all, I take the question of the taxpayer. We all anticipate very large taxes, but we ought to know that the money subscribed is well and properly spent. I am sure that nobody will grudge the money if it is properly spent on our soldiers and sailors who have done their duty so nobly and so well. At the same time we ought to remember that the Bill which was passed two years ago was looked upon as an experiment and we were then assured that we should be able before that was extended to judge whether the scheme had been a success or not. The other day I moved in your Lordships' House that the Return with regard to the Patrington colony—alluded 357 to this evening—which was for nine months only, should be for the working year. If we had this, we should be able to judge whether the colony has worked satisfactorily. I further urged my noble friend Lord Crawford to hurry up the presentation of that Return so that we should have it before us. I understand that it has not yet been presented. I do not know whether my noble friend can give an assurance that it will be presented before we go into Committee on this Bill; if not, I would strongly urge your Lordships to delay the Committee stage until we have some practical knowledge before us as to how this colony has worked.
I hardly like to repeat some of the facts which I gave to the House the other day, but some noble Lords who are present to-day were not in the House then, and I think if I give a few of the facts they will create surprise. Amongst other things, they have used tractors at that colony in the snow weather; they have cut up the roads so badly that £1,000 worth of new bricks have had to be put in to fill up the ruts; and since then a contract has been entered into by the Road Board, to the amount of £7,500, to put the agricultural roads into proper order. Further, up to May 1 (there is no mention made of it; in these curious accounts) they have never paid their tenants the £7,000 of tenant right which was owing to them; and they have not put down any rent as paid. It is equally impossible to judge what the cost of the cottages was; and when we are asked to extend this system to a large extent I think that the ratepayers have a right to know whether this colony has proved a success or not.
I would like to call your Lordships' attention to a sentence in the Report which to my mind is the most condemning sentence in regard to this Bill. They say here—this colony has now been going for a year—The Board have since had reason to modify their plans, and they have decided (subject to Treasury sanction) that the Patrington colony, at any rate, shall be worked for a time as one farm on a profit-sharing basis.I ought also to tell your Lordships that there is not a single settler on that farm at the present moment. The farm has been run, we were told, on behalf of solders and sailors. There are fifteen cottages ready for occupation; yet I understand there is not a single settler 358 on that farm. Is it very encouraging to us to trust the Board of Agriculture with the management of these large colonies when, so far as I can judge from the account, the present one is a failure, and we have not heard as to whether soldiers and sailors are very anxious to go on a colony? I should have thought they would probably very much prefer to have an opportunity of acquiring the freehold of their small piece of land after working on it for a short time. We have never heard yet that they are so enamoured of these colonies, and I do not think the Patrington colony gives us much promise for the future of these schemes. I do not wish to disparage these colonies or to prevent in any way soldiers and sailors from coming on the land after the war, but I want to make quite sure that the schemes, whatever they may be, which are carried out by this House or the Board of Agriculture or the county councils shall be a success.
Then, my Lords, you ought also to remember, with regard to the question of production of crops, that this Patrington colony, as far as I can make out, has been a lamentable failure, because I understand that the average quarters of cereals sold have been about 4,700 a year and I see from the Return that in nine months they sold £900 worth. At the present price of corn there is a very large margin of difference there to be made up in the three months, and I do not know whether it has been done. But it makes me still more anxious to have a satisfactory assurance as to how that colony has been worked.
I should also like to call your Lordships' attention to an article with regard to these colonies which appeared in The Times of yesterday. I much regret that I do not see Lord Selborne in his place, because the article is headed "Business Farming. Selborne Committee's Plan. Holdings of 3,000 Acres." In the first paragraph it States—It is proposed that these holdings, established in various parts of Great Britain, should consist of 3,000 acres or upwards, and be worked on the same organized system, as any other large productive business is conducted.There is no mention there about soldiers or sailors. It simply mentions large productive business, and then it goes on later to say that it would be well too mark the distinction between the demonstration farm and the experimental farm, in the 359 sense that profit-making is not its primary function. I think that man must have been a cynic, if he knew the state of the Patrington colony, when he wrote that sentence. The article goes on to mention the advantage to all the farming community in the neighbourhood of seeing the way in which these large experimental colonies are managed. I put it to any common sense farmer or agriculturist in the country, what is the use of showing a man with ten, twenty, or thirty acres how a 3,000-acre farm is managed? It is perfectly ridiculous. A 3,000-acre farm has unlimited machinery, unlimited business and capital.
Really if this article in The Times of yesterday expresses the view which is animating the Board of Agriculture, I should be very much inclined to recommend your Lordships not to pass this Bill, because it seems to me it would be going the wrong way to work to set up these large experimental farms to show men how to work their small holdings when they have not got the comparative capital or machinery to carry on with. Therefore I should like, before we go any further, to have a clearer definition of the intention of the Government with regard to the future. Certainly I cannot help thinking there is a great deal too much of the bureau and too much question of finding places for officials, who possibly, when the war is over and there may not be the same demand for them in their present official work, will be very glad to find comfortable billets in farming these colonies. We want land for the soldiers and sailors and not for other people. Therefore I hope that my noble friend, before we go into Committee on this Bill, will let us know how the existing colonies have been worked, and will give us a clearer definition as to the practical use to which these colonies are to be put.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, there are two Departments of the Government who have clone so extremely well that it is difficult to describe and almost impossible to exaggerate the disappointment and regret that many of us land reformers feel at the way in which this great after-war question has been dealt with on this occasion. In this terrible and tremendous time it is very difficult to know what to do or what to say. Of course, nobody would wish in any way to hamper or embarrass His Majesty's Government 360 at this moment, and, as I have said, it is very difficult to know what to say when one is face to face with a proposal of this sort.
Lord Strachie has a Motion on the Paper. I do not quite understand whether it is a vote of censure or a Motion for the rejection of the Bill, but he called the Government severely to account because they have not brought in the services of the county councils in this measure. I think I might remind the House that the times are very different now from what they were when the Small Holdings Bill of 1908 was brought before the public. One great Party in the State had been in power practically for twenty years, and agriculture at the beginning of this century was supposed to be almost past praying for—at any rate, not worth talking about—because we have it on the authority of a past President of the Board of Agriculture that in the last six years of that Government agricultural questions were only brought before the House of Commons for five hours in the whole of that time. We also had it on the authority of the late Mr. Chamberlain, when he was showing to the country that England was decadent and all her industries were ruined, that British agriculture was practically destroyed. Mr. Chamberlain was good enough to tell us that in 1903.
When what was called the "C.-B." Government came in they took the land question in hand in earnest, and in 1907 the Small Holding Bill was brought before your Lordships' House. I might remind the House that at that time the Board of Agriculture was in a very infantile state. There was no Under-Secretary to the Department, and it is incredible that there was no Land Department at all in the Board of Agriculture at the time. But we had in the Department some of the very best of the Civil Servants, and the Government had the great advantage of the assistance of the present Viscount Harcourt, who took the Bill through the House of Commons. When the main principles of the Bill were argued, it was decided that the distribution and the management of the land should be confided to the county councils, not because, on our side of the House, we considered that they were the best persons to deal with the subject—a collection of county gentlemen and farmers without a single agricultural labourer on the councils—but because practically it was all that we could do, and I am not prepared 361 at all to say that the county councils failed to help us through our difficulties. On the contrary, they did far better than we ever had any reason to expect. We rode them in spurs, it is true. We had eight Small Holding Commissioners who met at the office every fortnight and reported how much land they had been able to get, and in three years—practically in two years, because the first year was wasted in preparations and arrangements—in two years, through the county councils, we were able to get 170,000 acres of land for the working men of this country. In the next three years, without any different management, the county councils were given their heads, the whip was put into the socket, the bearing reins were taken off, and they were allowed to roll about in their collars, with the result that in the next three years they got only 30,000 acres, instead of 170,000; and they stuck at 200,000 acres, beyond which, apparently, they were unable to go.
Then the war broke out, and we have been told that the money was stopped. Nothing was done till the Act of 1916 was brought in. That is called the principal Act, in which the subject of putting soldiers on the land was raised. The Act said—I am quoting from memory—that there were to be 4,500 acres in England, 2,000 acres in Wales, and 2,000 acres in Scotland, making a total of 8,500 acres. The Board of Agriculture at once came to the rescue, and, as they have the management of the Crown property, they placed this land at the disposal of the Government—that is to say, with the authority, consent, and approval of the King the King's land was put at the disposal of the King's soldiers. That was quite right. Three thousand five hundred acres were put to the disposal of the soldiers of the nation, and 1,000 acres more in England had to be provided. Although land was selling in hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres, in spite of the fact that many landowners offered land gratuitously and helped this great scheme, it took two years to get 1,000 acres of land. That is at the rate of 500 acres a year. The reason, of course, was that under the Bill land could not be taken by compulsion, but must be acquired by agreement. The new Bill, which the noble Lord has so well brought before us this afternoon, says we are to have 45,000 acres of land for this purpose. If they go on at this rate it will take exactly 83½ years to get the land that is necessary. If a British soldier wishes to make a certainty of getting a bit 362 of land, he will if he should have been born this year, have to wait until he is 80. It is a matter of wonder to some of us why there should be this playing with the subject, because it is nothing but playing with the subject.
In the Act of 1908 the whole of the machinery is ready to hand. The whole of the spade work has been done, the tractor plough has been in the land, the seed has been put in and has grown, and all that, are wanted now are the reapers and binders to reap the harvest. People do not seem to know really what is in the Act of 1908. The Act said that not only soldiers and sailors, but tinkers, and tailors, and ploughmen, and apothecaries, and railway men, and every man of England had a right to obtain from the Government, through the county councils, a piece of land, if he wanted to cultivate it and live on it, of from one to fifty acres in extent. That is the law of the land at this moment. Every citizen has a right to get a piece of land, and the county councils judge how much land he ought to have, and where that land ought to be, and they take great care to prevent severance or danger to any estate. But the landlords said, "Oh yes, that's all very well, but we can stop all that. There is the question of price. They can take our land, but we will see perfectly well that we put such a price on it that we shall be able to prevent anything being done of which we do not approve." To counteract this, your Lordships passed one of the clauses of that very Act. To your great credit and your great glory you passed a clause which was very well discussed for over two hours, which stated that in the event of land being required and the landlord not being willing to give it up voluntarily, it could be taken compulsorily, and the price should be fixed by a man who came down from the Board of Agriculture, who refused to allow the expert witnesses or lawyers into the Court where he was sitting, who fixed the price according to the custom of the country taking the advice of people who knew the countryside, and against his decision there was no appeal. That is the law of the land at the present moment. What do you want more? All you have to do is to put the machinery into operation. There is no difficulty about it. If the county councils will not act there is no difficulty at all, because you can transfer the powers from them either to a Government Department or to a body of men like the Agricultural 363 War Committee, who are doing such splendid work in the country, and the whole thing is settled.
It seemed difficult to know the real reason why His Majesty's Government have not tackled this great question in earnest, but we have been told the reason to-night. Tim noble Lord said it was a question of expense. In the old days you could not have got over that difficulty. It would have been the "lion in the path." Every one who has been in the Cabinet knows that the first person to be got right is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that if he refused to hack you up it was absolutely impossible to get anything through. But times have changed since then. There is no Cabinet now. There is the War Cabinet, of which I admit the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a member. I am speaking under correction, but I think it was in one of the leading articles of the Daily Telegraph that an instance was quoted of the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that some conclusions were arrived at of which he was absolutely unaware. If a great scheme for putting soldiers on the land has been turned down by the Treasury, it resolves itself into this—that the Government are in exactly the same position as a board of directors who, when the business of the company was in grievous jeopardy, had some great scheme to save the business, and their scheme was turned down by the cashier refusing to hand out the money at the critical moment. I thank the House for having allowed me to say these few words. I have no earthly intention of in any way embarrassing the Government, but I could not refrain from expressing the view which so many of us who have worked hard for years for land reform hold, and the disappointment we feel at the way in which, at this critical moment, the Government have tackled a question which is not only of vital importance to the brave men who have fought and bled for us in the trenches but to the nation and the Empire at large.
THE EARL OF LICHFIELD
My Lords, I should like to say a few words with regard to the omission of the county councils from this Bill, and in doing so I entirely agree with what has been said by my noble friend Lord Strachie and Lord GalWay on this subject. I am hopeful, however, after what was said by the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, that he will view with favour any Amendments that may be moved 364 in order to bring county councils into the action of this Bill. Under this Bill we now have some 60,000 acres in England and Wales to be dealt, with. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, alluded to the question, but at any rate Sir Richard Winfrey has stated that it is the intention of the Board of Agriculture to make much smaller colonies than those at present in existence. If that be so, and the colonies do not exceed, say, 1,000 acres in extent, this would mean that there would be something like sixty of these colonies spread throughout England and Wales, and that is about the number of the county councils in England and Wales. Therefore, it might be presumed that there would be one of these colonies in almost every county, and in those circumstances it would seem most desirable that the help of the county councils should be obtained in this matter. They have the experience gained under the Small Holdings Act; they have the local knowledge and trained staffs, and moreover—and I think this is most important—they are very anxious to do all in their power to make this and other schemes for settling ex-Service men on the land as great a success as possible. I believe county councils are better able to achieve success in this matter than any other body.
The County Councils Association have asked me, in the event of this Bill passing the Second Reading, to put down some Amendments which I will very briefly define. The first would be that no land shall be acquired under the Bill except after consultation with the council of the county in which the land proposed to be acquired is situate; and the second would be that the Board of Agriculture may delegate to the county councils the Board's powers under Section 4 of the principal Act of 1916—that is to say, that the Board of Agriculture may appoint the county councils as the Board's agents to deal with these colonies. I hope that these Amendments will be considered moderate, and that they will meet with the approval not only of your Lordships' House but of His Majesty's Government. My noble friend, Lord Strachie, has already alluded to the fact that the President of the Board of Agriculture is entirely in favour of small holdings being administered by county councils and, as he has stated, almost every Member in the House of Commons, when this Bill was under discussion, expressed the opinion that it was very desir- 365 able that county councils should be brought into the scope of the Bill.
In sketching out these very moderate Amendments. I should like to make it quite clear that the county councils do not in any way modify their strong objections to the existing embargo which is placed by the Treasury on loans under the Small Holdings Act. This has brought their operations to a complete standstill. It seems quite certain that many ex-Service men will wish to settle on the land near to their own homes, and not in the colonies under this Bill. Therefore it seems most important that the county councils should be allowed to go on with their work of looking about for land and acquiring land ready for these ex-Service men. You cannot select and buy land in a day. It takes time, and though the Selborne Report recommends that county councils should prepare schemes and obtain options over land, I think that the policy of options would not produce very great results. It is most important, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, that if possible these restrictions on the issue of loans should be taken off. We all know, of course, that the necessities of the war are paramount, but in this particular case, where the country is most anxious to obtain suitable homes for ex-Service men on the land, surely the Government may think fit in some degree to relax the restrictions that lave hitherto been put on these loans. If the county councils could have money at their disposal they would be able to make provision for the ex-Service men who wish to settle near their own homes at the same time that this scheme which we have before us to-day is being carried through. In that way the ex-Service men would have the option of the colony system under this Bill, or of obtaining suitable small holdings close to their homes. I am sure that we all wish that they should not be disappointed when they come home, but that they should find that preparations have been duly made for them, and that the country has not neglected them.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, before I say anything about the provisions of the Bill I should like to utter one or two words which may seem to some, but I do not think will seem to all, of your Lordships irrelevant to the occasion. When two years ago the Second Reading of the Bill which we are now asked to amend was moved by Lord Selborne he 366 was followed by the late Lord Camperdown. The occasion was exactly the kind of one of which Lord Camperdown was apt to avail himself. We were asked to dear with the rural life of the country with which he was thoroughly conversant, and to deal with a measure without quite sufficient time to consider it. Those were exactly the occasions when Lord Camperdown used to assert himself, and I think usefully.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
He was for fifty years a member of this House, and I do not think that any of us could have been quite indifferent when we heard a few days ago that we should never see him in his place again. He was a most indefatigable member of this House, and I know of no Peer who showed more industry mid more independence of judgment than he did. He paid close attention to the general business of the House, and in the conduct of its private business for a great many years he took a very conspicuous and a very honourable part. He also paid not a little attention to the unofficial conduct of our affairs. I think that we may say that the House has lost a very useful member, and that a number of us have lost a very dear and warm-hearted friend.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
In this Bill we are asked to extend considerably the experiment authorised by the Bill of 1916. I am sure that most of us felt when we passed that Bill that it was an experiment. I think that my noble friend Lord Clinton, whom we are all very glad to see representing a Government Department in this House, himself described it as a very modest experiment. And it was undoubtedly a very modest experiment. Most of us must, I am sure, have anticipated that our legislation would not stop there, and even now what is proposed can only be regarded as experimental; for, after all, although you are going to multiply tenfold, I believe, the extent of what you propose to do, one cannot but feel that we are still only touching the very fringe of the great national obligation which we are under to these men who have been so gallantly serving their country in this war. When, therefore, we talk of this being an experiment, I do not mean that the whole policy is to be regarded as in 367 suspense; I mean rather that we are to make a beginning on a reasonable scale now, and that that beginning is to guide us in prosecuting this policy to a further extent hereafter.
The policy itself I do not regard as open to question. In the great work of reconstruction which we shall have to undertake when this war is over, we shall be expected to do what we can to restore to their place in the industrial Commonwealth the men who have been serving the country in this war; and in the case of agriculture there will, it seems to me, be an irresistible claim for a full discharge of that obligation, partly because there will be a number of men—we do not yet know how large or how small that number will be—who will desire to go back to the land, and partly because we shall certainly want the men themselves on the land in order to restore it to its proper fertility and cultivation. Therefore it does not seem to me open to question that we must give all the encouragement and all the facilities we can to the conduct of this important experiment.
There are two obvious conditions, and I have no doubt that we shall bear them in mind. We shall have to consider the interests of the taxpayer, who is not always, perhaps, treated with as much regard as he deserves at the present moment; and we shall also have to make sure that, whatever experiment we embark upon, we try it under conditions which will give it at any rate a fair prospect of success. There are undoubtedly great difficulties in the way. There is the difficulty of the choice of the men. I do not myself regard with favour the kind of suggestions that one sometimes sees for settling townsmen wholesale upon the land, of which they have had no previous experience. There is also the choice of a suitable soil, and of a suitable position. These difficulties are immensely increased if you are going to proceed upon the colony system—that is, if you are going to look out for a large area of land in one and the same place, to be dealt with as it will be dealt with under the Bill of 1916 and the Bill now on the Table.
There is the further difficulty of providing capital and equipment. I have seen it stated that the cost of equipment has increased something like 70 per cent. as compared with pre-war prices. Those are difficulties of a very formidable character; and, having those difficulties in view, it seems to me that we ought to 368 consider very carefully whether if this policy is to be carried out on a really large and adequate scale, the colony system is the best that can be devised. The colony system must obviously be a very expensive system. It has no doubt its attractive features. We are familiar with them, and many of us have expatiated upon them. There is the opportunity which the colony offers for co-operation and co-partnership, the means of handling and marketing farm produce, the opportunities for instruction, the common use of machinery, and, last of all—the item which always figures rather prominently in these picturesque anticipations—there are the social amenities, the library, and the recreation room, and so forth. All these are very expensive and difficult to carry out.
There is another thing. I doubt whether in all cases the colony system will really meet the requirements of the men for whom we want to provide. My impression is that as a rule the English peasant—certainly in the part of England that I know best— has a very strong homing instinct. He does not at all like the idea of being transferred to a distance, even if it is only from his own county to the next county. I believe that the disappointing results of the Small Holdings Act were at any rate to some extent due to the fact that, although you could find the small holdings, you could not find exactly the small holding that was wanted by the man who applied to you to get it for him.
Therefore I hope we shall not wed ourselves too closely to the colony plan. I am all for trying it, but I do not think we ought to rely upon it to too great an extent. And I should also like the House to remember this. Apart altogether from the creation of small holdings, whether in colonies or singly, I think there will be a great opening after the war for ex-soldiers and sailors as labourers. It is quite true, as Lord Clinton said a few moments ago, that you want something more attractive than the position of the labourer before the war broke out. But, unless I am altogether mistaken, I think the position of the agricultural labourer in the community is going to be a very different one in years to come. His wages are being doubled. Government is very strongly committed to a big housing policy, and there will be no difficulty—at least I anticipate none—in providing these men with allotments of a reasonable size. I believe that the labourer with good wages, 369 with a good house over his head, and with a suitable allotment, will be in a very strong position indeed in the agricultural community. Labour will be costly. I think the farmers will cut down their permanent stalls as low as they possibly can—that is, the number of men who will be employed year in and year out, and who will be lodged in houses under the control of the farmer himself. But there will be an immense opening for occasional labour, for piece-work, and so forth, and at very remunerative wages.
This new type of labourer will probably thrive exceedingly as an occasional labourer occupying a part of his time on his own allotment, perhaps also on some minor village industry, of which we know there are many kinds, and then earning big wages at harvest time or when there is piece-work to be had. These men will earn money and they will earn experience, and I believe they will have no difficulty as time goes on in gradually taking up land as farmers. I believe that is what you really want. You want some avenue by which these men, instead of starting at once as farmers, whether large or small, will obtain the means of gradually working up their way in the scale and taking up a farm. I am sure many of my noble friends will bear me out when I say that even now there are a large number of extremely prosperous farmers who have begun life as labourers and worked up their way from the ranks. I have said these few words because I hope it will not be understood that because many of us support the plan of this Bill we therefore look to the farm colony alone as the proper way of dealing with this question.
The noble Lord opposite has put a Motion on the Paper with regard to the part which county councils might take in this business. I am in great sympathy with him and his desire that nothing should be done to give the go-by entirely to the county councils, and I am glad to hear from my noble friend Lord Lichfield that he intends to put down Amendments which, in the Committee stage of the Bill, will raise the question of the proper means of giving to the county councils the opportunities which I, for one, strongly desire that they should have. I hope, as notice of these. Amendments has been given by my noble friend, that the noble Lord opposite who has moved this Amendment will not think it necessary to persist with his Motion, 370 which would, unless I quite misunderstand it, be destructive of a Bill which I, for one, desire to see passed.
§ LORD BURNHAM
My Lords, may I be allowed to say a few words on the Second Reading of this Bill from the point of view of re-settlement, and re-settlement alone. It is a dreary commonplace now to say that social peace and industrial contentment in this country depend upon the successful solution of the problem of demobilisation in its widest sense. Of course, unless there is successful restoration to their place in industry—and not only that, but a considerable advance in their place in industry—of the masses of men who are serving in the Forces of the Crown, then there is undoubtedly social and industrial trouble ahead of us.
The question is, Does this Bill tend the right way, in proposing to establish on a large scale colonies of ex-soldiers and sailors, likely to nurse their grievances, and, from the very fact of being grouped together, not to feel the ordinary incentive to enterprise which would probably lead them on if they were allowed to find their place under full encouragement in the ordinary conditions of agriculture and farming? This Bill at worst is likely to lead to a perfect orgy of extravagance and mal-administration. At best it requires to be very carefully conditioned, and I submit that, in proposing to set up colonies as the main principle of the measure, you are taking the wrong course to attain the end at which you aim.
First of all, you are acting contrary to-all the teachings of history. I do not believe that in the records of the past there is any single case of the successful establishment of a military colony. Even the Romans found how useless and unprofitable a system it was, as the numbers of examples known to your Lordships testify. But I ask you to consider what is there that we can learn from the experience of our own Colonies and Dominions. Almost universally they are opposed to the principle of colonial settlements. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill alluded to what is being clone and what is proposed to be done in the Dominions for giving, the returned soldier a chance of acquiring an interest in the land. I served as a member of Lord Tennyson's Committee which two years ago thoroughly examined this problem in all it bearings. It is not the case that the Dominions as a 371 whole are offering any inducements—or, if they are, they are offering very few—to British soldiers as distinct from those who come back from their own Forces; at least, not on a large scale. But I do not know of any ease in which it is proposed to set up provinces. Facilities are being offered in a varying state in different Dominions and Colonies, but so far as I learnt then, and as I have since heard from the Dominion statesmen in this country, it is not proposed to settle them in colonies, because the experience of the Dominions is entirely against any such attempt.
Certainly the experience of Parliament is not in its favour. Some of your Lordships may recollect the case of the crofters' colonies which, about the year 1881, were established in Canada. I had to visit those colonies and to report to the Scottish Office at the time. It was a melancholy thing to see eight or ten years afterwards that those who had gone over were living in the log huts which had been originally put up for their reception, whereas the adjoining land which was free to settlement had been successfully cultivated by farmers on their own account who were already prospering. It is not the case that, as a rule, men settled in colonies do very well. They are continually looking back; they are inclined to exaggerate all their disabilities, and to look for help from outside rather than to find it in themselves; and I cannot believe that in this country it will be a good thing to segregate soldiers and sailors in colonies, selected in different parts but under a different system from their neighbours, and prevent them thereby attaining what I think is the real object that we ought to have in view—the interest in the land which can come only from freehold possession. It is, as some noble Lord said, "the ascending scale of property which they wish to mount," or, as George Young more titan one hundred years ago said, "the sense of property which turns sand into gold." Under the amending Bill which we are now asked to consider they are denied this, because this is, as its title shows, a Bill for establishing colonies.
It is said that this is not a very big measure. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne said that it is inadequate to the real needs of the case. It can, of course, be justified only as a preliminary to a large measure of land nationalisation; it is good enough to justify the expenditure of the money now proposed, and the 80,000 372 acres to be acquired in the United Kingdom for the purpose. It will, of course, be carried further; the precedent has been set up, and it will be pursued. But nothing has been pointed out, no example has been brought forward yet, to show that this scheme has been in any case successful hitherto. I am bound to say that if assistance is to be given to soldiers and sailors returning from the war, it should rather be facilities to attain such a tenure of land as will give them a permanent interest in the soil and bring out the individual energy and industry that are in them so that they may become valuable members of the community in the ordinary way.
I feel that the principle in this Bill is not only a dangerous one, but that it is a wrong one. It has not been justified by any practical example. You have all the experience of the British Empire against you. I do not know whether the Board of Agriculture have thought out the inherent difficulties that surround the plan. At any rate, we have nothing before us or in our hands to show us that they have been appreciated. If these facilities are to contribute to the social and industrial resettlement that we all desire, then at least they ought to rest on practical lines, though I am far from denying that we should shut out our ideals altogether from the purview. I hardly think that this has been done in this Bill, and I believe that, granted that it is desirable to give openings to ex-sailors and soldiers for going on the land, it had much better be done through the established machinery of those who are acquainted with agriculture from practical experience and who have had to deal in the various counties with the administration of the existing law.
It is a mistake to imagine that any large body of those who are now returning show any desire to go back to the land. I happen to be Chairman of the Advisory Labour Committee of this great county—and I have had other experience—and at present I think the cases of men who wish to have opportunities of entering on agriculture are few and far between. Canadian Ministers have told me that the same thing is the case in their country. Whether we can judge at present from the number who have as yet been discharged is, of course, another point. Perhaps your Lordships may think that, as many of them are suffering from physical disabilities, maimed and mutilated, and, therefore, not pos- 373 sessed of average strength, it is possible that of that number you would get only a small proportion who would want to enter a calling which makes a heavy demand in the way of manual toil. That may be so, but at present the proportion is very small; and unless, in the first place, you set up a good system of initiation, unless you are prepared to give them the one thing that would tempt them to the land—namely, the chance of establishing themselves as part of the land in their own homes on their own soil—I believe this experiment is predestined to fail.
THE MARQUES OF CREWE
My Lords, it has been evident that this debate has been followed with keen interest and close attention by all those who are present in your Lordships' House; and it is not surprising, because every speech that has been made—perhaps unlike all the speeches made either here or in the other House—has been replete with first-hand knowledge, for there has been no noble Lord who has spoken who has not contributed something of value to the discussion.
Perhaps I may begin by saying that I heard with great pleasure what fell from my noble friend Lord Lansdowne with reference to the last debate and to Lord Camperdown, who took part in it. I am very glad that an informal tribute of this kind should have been paid by Lord Lansdowne to one who was so well known here, and whose familiar figure on that Bench where my noble friend is sitting was so conspicuous in all our debates. There was no man who took a greater pride in the credit of your Lordships' House than Lord Camperdown did; no man who had a closer or wider knowledge of its procedure, and, what is more, of the spirit which ought to animate our discussions. He, both upstairs and in the Chamber itself, contributed a vast amount of ungrudgingly-given work to your Lordships' House in a great many different aspects of our labour.
The measure which has been brought forward by the noble Lord opposite—and I desire to join in congratulating both him and the House upon his appointment to a post which he is so peculiarly well qualified, as we know, to fill—has received a good deal of pretty sharp criticism from almost every speaker who has taken part in the debate. That, I think, has arisen from the fact that the Bill, in its form if not in its spirit, seems to divide the pro- 374 vision which is to be made for soldiers and sailors who wish to go on the land from the provision which has been made in the past for all other persons who desire to obtain a small holding. That undoubtedly is the cause of the Amendment which Lord Strachie has moved. It seems as though whereas a civilian who desires to obtain a small holding or small farm must apply to the local authority under the Act with which we are so familiar, those who have fought in the war and who desire to be similarly provided must go to headquarters, to the centralised authority, and obtain a place in one of these new colonies. I cannot think that such was the intention of His Majesty's Government in couching the measure in this form, but the effect produced on the mind is undoubtedly in that direction. I trust, therefore, that when the time comes for amending the Bill it will be made explicitly clear that, what indeed the noble Lord said in his opening speech, the assistance of county councils for the objects of the measure will be not merely welcomed but will be in practice used.
My noble friend who spoke last has a poor opinion of the system of colonies. I do not go so far as he does, but I entirely agree that the system by which a number of holdings are combined in a rural district cannot be the only system on which men can be or ought to be placed upon the land. There is no doubt the danger, which my noble friend mentioned, of a certain inelasticity in the conduct of a farm colony. The type of holding which a man fills is likely to become stereotyped. His own character as a farmer also runs the risk of becoming stereotyped, and in some respects he at any rate is likely to lose the advantage which a man can get in a more free and isolated holding of carrying on his work in such a way as may enable him to advance in a comparatively short time to the position of holding a different type of farm. I do not think I should agree with Lord Burnham that all colonies for discharged soldiers have proved altogether ineffective. Without going back as he did to the time of the Romans, and indeed suggesting that the policy of colonies which has led to the existence of our Roumanian friends was altogether a failure, I would point to the existence of certain military colonies in India, in the Punjab, which have been conducted with no little success; but I agree that the system is one to be employed with caution, 375 and I confess I do not, so far as my present knowledge goes, share the hope of those who expect to see it developed in the United Kingdom on a vast scale of hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of acres. I do not, think that so far anything has been said to prove the utility of establishing colonies on so large a scale as that.
This brings me to ask His Majesty's Government whether even the consideration of this considerable experiment in the Committee stage of this Bill might, at any rate, not be deferred for a short time, until we are in possession of that further information for which Lord Galway asked. It would be, I think, worth while to know everything we can about the existing colonies, small though their scale is, before we proceed to consider the establishment of a number ten times the extent of those which have already been sanctioned. I do not think my noble friend opposite said whether the Government regard this measure as specially urgent, and are desirous of pressing it forward with great speed, or whether a certain postponement of the Committee stage would appeal to them as a possibility. At any rate, I trust that the Government before the debate closes will be able to satisfy us that they are not averse to the prospect of some more formal utilisation of the county councils as recognition of the excellent work which a great many of them have done in the establishment of small holdings. Those holdings have in some cases definitely been grouped into small colonies, and I venture to think the Government would be making a great mistake if they do not engage to the utmost extent the experience and good will of those who have been responsible for such excellent work in a good many counties, of which it would not be difficult to give a list.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just sat down, in describing this Bill as having met with a good deal of criticism, might almost have used a somewhat stronger term. I am afraid there has been somewhat of a chorus of disapproval, broken perhaps partially by himself and partly by the noble Marquess near me, who has been good enough to speak in certain terms favourable to the Bill.
Before I allude to any criticism, I should like at once to deal with the question which the noble Marquess has asked me about the 376 accounts. The cash account is, I believe, very nearly ready, and it should be in a position to be placed before your Lordships in a very short time. The profit and loss account, I am informed, is likely now to be made up to Michaelmas next, and will not be ready for your Lordships, of course, until after that time. The whole system of the accounting, which has been objected to strongly in this House, is one which I am not in the least concerned to defend, because I think it is a method which, although I believe it is approved by the Treasury, is one not calculated to convey any information at all to the ordinary student. I myself have attacked it so very often in this House in connection with the Congested Districts Board and other bodies that I am certainly not inclined to stand up in its defence now. I am glad to think that the Board has in preparation a model account which, I hope, will be plain to those who really wish to get information from the accounts.
The noble Marquess has asked whether there is any occasion for haste in the matter of this Bill. I think there is. When I was moving the Second Reading I made plain what is my view—and it is also probably the view of everybody—that the delays in connection with the finding of land, the acquisition of land, and the different processes of re-arrangement which are necessary when you change the use of a holding from one purpose to another, are really so very great that the sooner we can get to work on the task of getting the land required the better; and I think it is very important that it should be done so that there may be a possibility of some land, at all events, being ready for the day when it really is required to be parcelled out. The noble Marquess near me, I am glad to say, did speak in an encouraging way of the use of this measure, but he has not committed himself in any way to the value of small holding colonies. If we were all certain that they would be of value to the community, obviously there would be no use in making experiments. The object of the experiment is to find out whether they can be used in the way laid down in this Bill. Equally obviously it takes a considerable time to make certain whether they are of value or not. The scheme is proposed generally for the use of our soldiers and sailors on demobilisation, but I think the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, spoke of it rather as if the soldiers and sailors would be compelled to get their land, if they get it 377 at all, under this measure—that they would have to go to a central authority, while anybody else who wants a small holding will be able to get it in the ordinary way. I have not read anything in the Bill which leads me to that conclusion. I think that obviously soldiers and sailors have the rights of citizens to get the land in the most convenient way for them.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I did not understand that they were debarred, but I understood that the general implication in the Bill is that it is the intention of the Government to place them in colonies, and it appears to me to be somewhat too strongly indicated in the form of the Bill.
§ LORD CLINTON
I understand what the noble Marquess means in the matter, but the Bill is designed to see if these colonies are suitable for the purpose, and I am certain it will not be confined in any way at all. Most of the noble Lords who have spoken, so far as they have restricted their remarks within the four corners of Lord Strachie's Amendment, will, I think, have the sympathy of a large number of people who have the cause of the progress of small holdings at heart. I agree most thoroughly that the work in the past has been managed exceedingly well by the county councils and the small holdings committees. They have given a great deal of time to the purpose, and have been able to employ local men with practical knowledge of all local customs—an asset of enormous value in dealing with land in this way. They have been very successful, I think, in getting a good type of tenant, and, on the whole, they have been able to carry out the Act of 1908 with far less friction than any of us at one time thought possible.
I am glad to say I can so far bring some encouragement, particularly to my noble friend Lord Lichfield, who has spoken on this matter and has suggested certain Amendments which he would like put into the Bill. I am authorised to state to your Lordships that it is the intention of the Board of Agriculture to invite county councils or some of the local committees to assist in the management of these lands as soon as the schemes have become ripe for such an arrangement. This is consistent first of all with the known desire of the Board of Agriculture to get the help of county councils. It is consistent also with 378 the policy which is already adopted under the Corn Production Act, and with the policy proposed under the Land Drainage Bill, which will shortly come before your Lordships' House, I think this probably will go some way to meet the Amendments suggested by the noble Earl. I do not suppose for a moment it will meet Lord Strachie's Amendment; but, after all, that is an Amendment which cannot carry out his wish that county councils should have charge of the measure. It can only do away with the possibility of getting land under this Bill. There is nothing in the Amendment which would be executive, supposing the Amendment was passed.
Lord Strachie has, of course, condemned this very modest little Bill in no measured terms, and he has magnified it into, I think, a million-acre Bill, to which at present there is no intention of extending it. Both he and my noble friend Lord Galway spoke of the failure of the measure. I think it is impossible to speak either of failure or of success in regard to an agricultural measure which practically has only been in force, so far as the information before the House goes—so far as that White Paper extends—for eight months. The colony of Patrington had been, at the time the accounts and information were issued, in possession of the Board for eight months. I think it is rather idle to speak of its being possible to know by that time whether the farming operation had been a success or a failure. Lord Galway told us that the Board at that time had sold only so many hundred pounds worth of grain. I do not charge him with this in any way, because it is no doubt due to the faulty nature of the accounts. In the accounts there is nothing as to the value of the stock in hand, and it is quite obvious that on a colony of this size the value of the stock in hand would amount to some thousands of pounds. I do not claim, and I have no right to claim, that that colony is a success, but I do say that it is really too early to judge of its failure.
There are one or two other remarks of the noble Viscount—he has repeated them from a previous statement he made before your Lordships some time ago—which I think it is right I should correct in certain particulars because, although he may have much to find fault with, I am certain he would not wish his statements to be an 379 exaggeration of the facts in any way. He charges the Board with having mended the roads with first-class brick to the value of £1,000. The actual cost of the brick put in was £88, and it was not first-class brick; it was half and three-quarter brick. I do not know where the noble Viscount got his information from, but I have little doubt that the information I have is correct. The statement that the roads were seriously damaged to the amount of several thousand pounds is correct, and that amount will have to be spent on putting them in order. The damage was done by the society who were carrying out the cartage having carted the building materials when the roads were in a bad state. The noble Viscount also charged the Board with not having paid the claims of the tenants.
§ LORD CLINTON
It would not be shown in the accounts in December, because the claims were not paid at that time. Only two of the claims have come in, both of which have been paid. There are two others which it is expected will come in. It was the noble Earl, Lord Lichfield, I think, who drew attention to a matter about which it is worth while I should say a word. One of his claims on behalf of county councils is that the people who will apply for these small holdings would much prefer to settle in their own county and near their own homes. Of course, every one thoroughly agrees with that, but what are you going to do with the large number of people who come from the towns, who do not practically belong to any county?
THE EARL OF LICHFIELD
I only meant to say that I was perfectly certain a great many would prefer to be near their own homes, and I mentioned the fact of the colony system and the county council system working together so that all might be suited.
§ LORD CLINTON
I am sorry I misunderstood my noble friend. I quite agree with that point. So far as possible the men would desire, and ought, to be placed near their own homes, but a great many will come from the centre of the towns, and for these people I think the 380 colony system is probably the most suitable.
With regard to the Amendment itself it will, of course, if carried, wreck the Bill. I do regard this experiment in farm colonies and the acquisition of land as of some considerable importance, and I think your Lordships should allow a measure of this kind to stand or fall on its merits, and await a sufficient time until those merits can be ascertained, rather than endeavour to wreck it, as this Amendment would, merely upon the issue of administration.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed, in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, to explain that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill has rather misunderstood the purport of the Amendment. The object was to elicit the feeling of the House, and also, if I could, whether the Government were favourable to the proposal of using county councils as their agents, and allowing them to create these small holding colonies under the Bill. I have so far succeeded in assuring myself as to the feeling of the House in favour of the county councils being introduced, although I am afraid I have not obtained quite so favourable a statement from the noble Lord, because he only goes so far as to say that they will be consulted. However, I am satisfied so far, and I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment to-day in order that I may put down Amendments in Committee on the same lines.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.