HL Deb 28 May 1919 vol 34 cc870-82

THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND had the following Questions on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government—

1. Whether any estimate can be formed as to how many ex-Service men will be settled on the land in a year's time in England, Scotland, and Wales, under the present Land Bills before Parliament; whether the number is considered adequate in view of the large number of applicants with agricultural knowledge.

2. How many ex-Service men will be trained and turned out yearly by the agricultural colleges and institutions, and whether the number of holdings to be established will be sufficient to supply all these men.

3. How much of the £20,000,000 provided for land settlement will be allocated to Scotland.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, it is not my intention to-day, nor is it possible, for me to enter minutely into details regarding the Questions I have put down on the Paper. It is only possible for me broadly to indicate in your Lordships' House the lines which I think should be followed in what is known as land settlement. The Land Acquisition Bill, the Housing Bill, and the Land Settlement Bill are all part and parcel of this great reform. They are so long and extensive in their measures that only tilt broad outlines can be examined by us in debate to-day. What I wish to ascertain is, Do the Government really believe that these measures will be amply sufficient to deal with the situation as it arises and fully to fulfil those pledges made by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government regarding ex-Service men at the time of the last General Election?

From studying the Bills the impression is given that their scope is a very ample one and that they will cover all the ground required, but it is often found that the practical carrying out of measures of this kind is not always up to the expectations entertained. It is an extremely important. thing that the practical working of these measures should fully carry out those pledges which were solemnly made and that the ex-Service men, returning from their arduous duties either at sea or in the field, should be treated honestly and with no niggardly hand. At the present moment there is a vast amount of unemployment in this country—a state of affairs unavoidable after the great war—and it is only by the greatest despatch and determination that these difficulties and troubles can be alleviated. We must look to these Bills which cover the broad terms of land settlement to establish a contented aftermath to the great war amongst the mass of demobilised Service men; to allay Bolshevism, unrest, and disorder in its many forms; to prevent the going out of our best blood to foreign countries; and, for the well-being of the country itself, to establish a class of contented, industrious people on the soil in which they can themselves personally take an interest.

I think, however, that after the experience of this war there is no doubt that men who wish to do so should be encouraged to go out to our Colonies if they prefer such a career. Nor will they be lost to us or to the Empire. It has been proved in this war that Colonials have been as useful to us as our own sons in this country, and I should be the last to discourage land settlement in our Colonies for those who wish to go. But when they go to foreign lands, alien to the British Empire, owing to the lack of a home or opportunity in this country, then they are indeed lost to us beyond recall. Land settlement in the British Isles and emigration to our Dominions should be part and parcel of the same scheme of Empire land settlement. I think the Colonial Office is wide awake to these necessities, but the great difficulty of sea transport, already overburdened with returning and demobilising soldiers and sailors, has still to be overcome, and it will take some time at least before there will be sufficient shipping accommodation to deal not only with the men returning to their homes but also with the would-be settlers in our Colonies overseas.

The most reactionary amongst us will, I think, admit that it is far better for the stability, contentment, and wellbeing of this country that the largest number possible of our fellow-countrymen should be settled on the land in a practical and business-like manner; and for those who wish to remain in this country and have acquired or are the possessors of the necessary agricultural knowledge, sufficient holdings should be made available to make them contented and reasonably prosperous. I do not for a moment suggest that complete success can attend every undertaking or that all the settlers will make a successful living out of their holdings. In a great many cases a cottage with a small area of land is better suited to the man who knows a definite trade of another kind and can follow a subsidiary employment at the same time as he cultivates his homestead. Nor is there any use imagining that by the waving of a wand a successful and prosperous community of settlers can be established all over the country, or that there will not be disappointments and bitternesses in army great undertaking of this kind. But let us try to make those disappointments as few as possible and these bitternesses rare.

Money must be lost and people must be ruined in isolated cases in all businesses of which agriculture is only a part; but let us do all in our power to limit these instances. Let us make sure, while we have a chance, that all that can be done, in fairness to everybody and to every class of the community, is being clone, especially for those men who so greatly merit at any rate a future of reasonable prosperity and a decent existence. Let us ensure this also by insisting that those who are to be settled on the land are men of knowledge in their profession. Let us further see that either they can provide sufficient capital for themselves or that this is provided upon easy terms by the Government or some local authority to give them a start in their new enterprise. The sum of £20,000,000 is mentioned in the Bill to be provided for land settlement—equivalent to three days' expenses of the great war—and I do not think that a less sum could reasonably have been provided. I should like to ascertain in what way this money will be expended; how much will go towards the providing of agricultural colleges and technical schools (which I understand in. Scotland at any rate have been started); how much will be allocated to the numerous other expenses that will be entailed.

Has the Government any plans for the proportion and division of this money amongst England, Scotland, and. Wales, either in proportion to the areas of the different countries or to their population or to the number of potential settlers from each country? When make a special plea for Scotland I do not wish to diminish the amount to be given to England and Wales. I only wish to ensure that the most difficult country to settle, where in parts the worst land exists and where more capital will be required to make a start, will be adequately dealt with. Grain in the northern parts at least does not ripen until late in the autumn, and winter storms play greater havoc than they do in the English shires. Here, often a severe snowstorm will kill off half a stock of lambs, and though the summer days are long the winter days are all too short. During the last five years men from this country have gone forth either to a dreary vigil in the cold gloom of the Northern Seas, or to those parts of the world where the greatest danger to the British Empire lay. I could say the same for every part of this country, and I do not think that this sum, equivalent to three days' war expenses, can be grudged to those who, having come unscathed through the perils that beset them, wish to live a life of decent industry, properly housed, sufficiently fed, and each with their own small stake in the country in a piece of land.

The housing question is fully as important as land settlement; they march hand in hand—one is interwoven with the other. Nobody wants a good place of land and an unhabitable house, nor do they want a good house without any land, even if it is only a garden. I do not think, from reading the Bills and their accepted Amendments as far as they have gone, that any class is being unfairly treated or favoured. But let us not waste too much time in quibbling over Amendments and discussing details; there is the greatest need for these Bills to be carried into immediate and practical effect. If there is further delay suspicions will be aroused and Bolshevik tendencies increased through out the country. Worse than this, it will drive our best men to alien lands. The Government, will, I hope, ensure that within a reasonable time the full Election pledges are carried out, and with fairness to all classes concerned.

In particular one would like to know on what terms the small holdings are to be granted, awl whether the machinery to be employed will be the present Board of Agriculture machinery, or, if not, what will be set up in its place. Whatever machinery is employed, it should be of the speediest. Anything out of date or cumbrous should be scrapped. The clause of the Bill that deals with loans to settlers for stocking their holdings should be made ample for all requirements. I should like to see it made compulsory on the Board of Agriculture or county council to advance the money to a settler who could show himself worthy of the trust, and not merely give them power to do so if they felt so inclined.

The French Government have been very sympathetic as regards this question. They have passed a law under which loans may be granted to military pensioners and others who have suffered by the war up to 10,000 frances each (£400), exclusive of costs and the insurance premium. The period of repayment may not exceed twenty-five years, and the borrower may not be more than sixty years old when the last instalment is paid. The interest on the loan, exclusive of the sinking fund, is at the privileged rate of only 1 per cent. Moreover, realising that farms often do not give their maximum yield until after a certain number of Years, and also that some of the applicants will sometimes lack memos to enable them to make their first annual payments, provision is made to allow that the annual repayments may be unequal in amount in the first three years, or that, exceptionally, the payment of the first year's instalment may be deferred until the fourth year of the loan. The French Government has, for several generations past, taken a particular interest in the agricultural system and policy of their country, whilst in this country in the past not very great interest has been taken in these matters. Let us hope that in the future as munch or more may be done, as is being done by the French Government for their returned soldiers and sailors.

In the last place I should like to mention what I think is a sine quâ non for successful settlement in England. In the first place a sufficient area, not less than 25 acres, is required to enable a man to obtain a very moderate livelihood for himself and his family; the land to be such as will readily respond to capable and generous treatment, and be mainly composed of well-established pasturage. On the land should be situate a house that has not less than three bedrooms, also out-buildings sufficient for the equipment of the little farm. The holding should be within reach of a large town or other centre of population possessing a market, where the smallholder and the customer could be brought into direct contact without the intervention of the middle man. The occupier should be a man of thorough experience in the cultivation of land and the management of live stock. From the latter item he should certainly derive the greater part of the profits on which he and his family in must live, and also the manure necessary for the upkeep of the hind. He must possess judgment, and be able correctly to price for sale or purchase any farm produce or live stock he may require or wish to dispose of—a desideratum partly the result of natural aptitude and partly an acquired one. Finally, he must have sufficient capital thoroughly to stock his little farm and to carry on until his first season's produce from crops and live stock is marketable.


My Lords, we have listened to a most interesting speech from the noble Duke, who has already shown in the most practical way his great interest in a subject which I am sure is very much in all our thoughts at the present moment. I owe the noble Duke a debt of gratitude, because he was good enough to withdraw a property which he had put up for auction and allow the Board to buy it for small holdings by special arrangement. The noble Duke has also placed the Secretary for Scotland under a debt of gratitude by a gift, for the purpose of afforestation and land settlement, of 12,000 acres, and also by allowing a farm to be sold to the Board by special treaty rather than by public auction. On all these grounds I can assure the noble Duke that what he has said has fallen upon a grateful ear, and his many suggestions will be welcomed.

I am not sure that it would be proper, at a time when the various Land Bills are still under discussion and when it is uncertain in what shape they will reach your Lordships' House or emerge from it, to discuss the actual terms of those Bills. The question asked is one that, strictly speaking, it is very difficult for me to answer. The noble Duke asks whether any estimate can be formed as to how many ex-Service men will be settled on the land in a year's time in England, Scotland, and Wales, under the present Land Bills before Parliament. I think the House, and the noble Duke, would like to know what has been done in the direction of finding land for ex-Service men. In England and Wales the number of applications for land that we have received from ex-Service men is approximately 12,000, and the acreage for which they ask is 218,000; that is, an average of just over 18 acres for each applicant. Our experience at the Board has been that men are rather prone to ask for more land than they really want or have capital to manage, and a certain number of the applicants undoubtedly apply not for self-supporting holdings but for cottage holdings, with perhaps from 1 to 3 or 4 acres attached; in other words, they mean to depend for their livelihood not entirely on the proceeds of their holding but to supplement their wages by what they raise from their holding.

As regards the number of applicants who have the necessary knowledge and experience and can command a certain amount of capital—and it is only to men of those classes that we now offer small holdings it appears that the proportion of well-qualified applicants is very large. It is something like 88 per cent. of the total number of applicants who up till now the county councils have interviewed and approved. Probably that high average will not altogether be maintained, but it is evident that a large number of men of energy, enterprise, and vigour, possessing capital, experience, and knowledge, are anxious to go into the agricultural industry as smallholders. That is a very desirable thing. If you take the number of applicants at 12,000, and assume for the sake of example that 10,000 of them are approved and have to be provided with 12 acres of land apiece—the average for small holdings in England and Wales being 13 acres, and, a number of the small holdings for which they apply being of the small cottage-holding type, that would be a fair average to take—the total quantity of land required for the applicants whom we expect to be approved is 120,000 acres.

Up to the present time the county councils in England and. Wales have acquired this year—that being the first date at which we were able to go to work, owing to the necessity during the war of all the financial wealth of the country being devoted to the purposes of that war; therefore it is only from January 1 that we have been at work, and that not under the new Bills but under the existing powers—the county councils have acquired 23,000 acres, and the Board themselves have acquired 12,260 acres, making a total of 35,260 acres. At the same time negotiations are in progress by the county councils for the acquisition of a further area of approximately 80,000 acres, and the Board are in negotiation for some 10,000 acres in addition. If all this land is obtained it would approximately meet the present demand, which, as I said before, is 120,000 acres. Of course, our experience is that as soon as land is forthcoming the demand increases, and also there must be provision made for the men who remain to be demobilised and who will be applicants for land.

The principal difficulty is to provide land quickly, when in England most of the land is occupied and the tenant requires a notice to quit. Still more difficult is it in Scotland, where long term leases have in many cases to run out. Unless compensation is paid to the tenants to waive their notice or break their lease then there will be a difficulty in getting land before Michaelmas, 1920, except that small portion of land on which we are able to enter at Michaelmas, 1919. We hope that in the course of the present year, with or without the new powers of the Bills which are coming before this House, we shall be able to obtain something like 80,000 acres, of which possession will be obtained at Michaelmas, 1920. Another difficulty, of course, is that until we get possession we cannot begin to build cottages. That is a very serious difficulty, and, if I may break the stipulation that I made at the beginning, there is a clause in the Land Settlement Bill which provides for that particular case of difficulty.

I may say, so far as Scotland is concerned, that Scotland has made considerable progress under some of the many Acts which enable the authorities to deal with the question. Under the Small Holdings and Colonies Acts they have obtained 7,394 acres; under gifts of land, including the gift of 12,000 acres from the noble Duke which I have already mentioned, they have 12,710 acres; under the Congested Districts Act they have purchased within the last few weeks something like 17,000 acres, and they are negotiating also for land under the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, and settlers on all these estates will be settled at the earliest possible moment, subject, of course, to the necessity of building and of obtaining possession.

The noble Duke asks me also about the training that is now being offered to the ex-Service men. There are three classes of training offered by the Board of Agriculture. One is for men of high educational qualifications—a three years' course at a University or at art agricultural college; and the men whom we want to get are men who will be scientific inquirers and carry on the work of research into the many problems of farming. A Committee of Selection has been set up, and the thirty-two scholars have already been appointed. Then there are the future farmers or bailiffs, both officers and men, the only qualification being an educational one, and no distinction naturally being made in the rank of the men admitted to the training. That is carried out through the county councils, and the men are trained for two years on the farms under careful supervision by the county education authorities and the war executive committees. Under that 713 officers and men have been approved, and of those already 368 are in training. Our numbers are limited to 1,000. We hoped to get 1,500.

Then there are men without experience or capital who want to go into agriculture as an industry. We thought that there would have been a very large number of these men. They are men who would require a certain amount of training to enable them to obtain employment at district rates of wages. We have been rather disappointed in the results. We have at present only 200 of these men in training. We have set up training centres capable of taking a great many more, but there does not seem to be a great demand for these facilities. Among our training centres is one for motor tractor driving and the management of fruit and vegetable gardens. The rest are for the ordinary manual operations of farming, and provide a course of only six weeks. Farmers are willing at the end of that time, as we have proved by experience, to take men into their employment. I am sure that your Lordships recognise that it. is no good asking a farmer to take a man who is quite ignorant how even to handle a spade or fork, because the moment he does so he is obliged to pay to that totally unskilled man the same wages that he pays to the skilled man, and this creates enormous dissatisfaction among the farmer's ordinary labourers. We have tried to get over that difficulty by giving these men a preliminary training which at least makes them capable of earning wages and of being thoroughly useful. Similar courses of training are in force in Scotland. Unfortunately I have not any figures for Scotland, but all three forms of training are in progress. There is also training given in forestry. There are about 170 officers and between thirty and forty men being trained in various parts of the United Kingdom in forestry.

As to the allocation of the £20,000,000, I have received a note from the Secretary for Scotland which is in these words— "The noble Duke may rest assured that the provision for Scotland will be made on lines which bear comparison with the provision made for England and Wales."

I can assure the noble Duke that from my experience of the Scottish Office that Office will be certain to obtain fairtreatment from His Majesty's Government, but there is no distinct allocation except by mutual arrangement between the Board of Agriculture and the Secretary for Scotland. I think something like £2,500,000 will in the first instance be considered Scotland's share of the £20,000,000. That is calculated on the ordinary footing of the division, but it is quite a loose division, and we mean to spend the money to the best advantage of both countries and for the benefit of the men who have so gallantly fought, whether they come from Scotland or from England or from Wales.


I should like to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture whether I heard correctly a statement that he made. He said that they had acquired 7,000 acres roughly in small holdings, and 12,000 from gifts, and 17,000 under the Congested Districts Board.


Yes, that, is so.


Has the Congested Districts Board sprung into life again?


In reply, may I read the note that got front the Scottish Office. I am afraid that I trusted to it. The noble Lord may be more right than I am. The note says— Under the powers of the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act recent purchases have been made of land to the total amount of 17,000 acres. I will make inquiries as to whether the note is wrong. It was furnished to me by the Scottish Office, and is my only authority.


May I ask further in regard to applicants for land. The number for England was given. Could we have the number of applicants for small holdings in Scotland? And also could the House be informed how much of the 34,000 acres that have been acquired is arable land, because to compare that with the 35,000 acres acquired by the Board of Agriculture in England might give a wholly erroneous impression. I take it that the very large proportion of the 35,000 acres acquired in England would be arable land, and, as the noble, Lord has pointed out, would be suitable for settlement at the rate of 12 acres to one individual, while a considerable portion of the 34,000 acres acquired in Scotland will simply be moorland waste. Obviously, therefore, the same proportion would not hold good. If the noble Lord could give us some information on that point it would be important. I would also press that the House is entitled to have equal information as regards Scotland concerning the question of education. The noble Lord gave us the number of men trained in England. Can be give us the same information respecting Scotland?


I very much regret that I am not in a position to supplement the information in any respect, except that funds, I am told by the Secretary for Scotland, have been provided for the practical training on farms of 150 officers or men; but. I have no evidence here how many men have been trained or are applicants for training. Neither am I, I regret to say, able to dissect the figure of 34,000 acres, but I entirely agree with the noble Lord that in all probability some portion of that land is moorland waste. I very much regret that I was unable to obtain further information. I think that it is probably due to the fact that the Secretary for Scotland is absent on business in Scotland at the present moment, and that the note which I now have was the nest that could be furnished by those who represent the Scottish Office.


What is the number of applicants?


I am afraid there is no information as to that either.


With your Lordships' permission I should like to press this point a little further. We in Scotland have been singularly unfortunately treated for a very long time in your Lordships' House. I am sure it is within the recollection of You all how many tunes those who are interested in land in Scotland have asked questions in exactly the same way as I am doing at the present time, and we have had replies from noble Lords representing carious Departments, but they have not been able to give us the information about Scotland that we desired. And, if the noble Lord (Lord Ernle) will pardon me, he has not had an opportunity of studying Scottish method. We always come up against the same thing; the answer is. "We do not know; the Scottish Office has given us this answer" and there the matter rests. On the subject of Scottish land we are always brought up by the fact that no One on the Front Bench appears to have the requisite knowledge. I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that they might ennoble some of the gentlemen who stand outside the barrier and bring them in—Peers are frequently and rapidly created—so that we might have the information that is required.

The noble Lord has stated that there is a very large number of Small Holding Bills, for Scotland, and we in Scotland are quite unaware at the present time what is going to be done for the men who fought in the war. We regard the position in Scotland as most unsatisfactory. Land has been given by the noble Duke and has been offered by other individuals for hire, rent, or purchase, and as yet, I believe, the number of men settled in Scotland since the beginning of the war—I do not say could be counted on two hands but it is ludicrously small.

Efforts have been made from time to time to pretend that this is the result of the action of the brutal landlords Who will not provide the land. As your Lordships are aware, at a meeting of Members representing both sides of Parliament over a tear and a half ago an offer was made that if a settlement could only be got on non-controversial lines the land would be at once forthcoming. Nothing has been done. Meetings were held between the Secretary for Scotland sixteen months ago and representative bodies of landowners, who said again that they were prepared to put the land at the disposal of the Secretary for Scotland. A Committee was formed at the Secretary for Scotland's request, and I need hardly say that the Committee, having been formed, has never been asked to function from that day to now.

I mention these facts because it is no doubt advantageous to His Majesty's Government not to have any one on the Front Bench who can speak with knowledge of Scotland, because their action has been so extraordinarily unsatisfactory as regards the settlement of the men who fought in the war. I would suggest to my noble friend the Duke of Sutherland that he should press for answers to his Questions. I was unfortunately not here when he began his speech, and so I do not know how far he went into the points. But certainly I think he has a right to an answer to the Questions he raised as regards Scotland, and I should advise him also to add to his list of conundrums a question about the number of soldiers who fought in the war who have been settled on the land during the period of nearly five years since the declaration of war. I would also appeal to those noble Lords who represent the Opposition, and especially the Scottish Peers, to press that His Majesty's Government should be asked to have in this House more certain representation of Scottish interests, especially by persons with more information on the subject of Scottish land.