§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE had given Notice to call attention to the general agricultural and land policy of the Coalition Government, and to a statement made by the Minister of Agriculture in the House of Commons on February 10, 1922, namely, "We are getting rid of Government estates and Government farms as quickly as ever we can"; and to ask His Majesty's Government the following questions—
- 1. Do the Government estates and Government farms referred to form any part of the hereditary estates of the Crown now under the control and management of His Majesty's Government?
- 2. If the estates and farms referred to are not Crown estates, when and for what purpose were they bought by the Government?
- 3. What is the acreage?
- 4. What was the cost?
- 5. How much money has been expended upon these Government estates and farms since bought?
- 6. What income has been derived from them?
- 7. What are they expected to realise when sold?
- 8. What number of tenants are there on the land, and what is to become of them if the land is sold?
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I should like to ask whether it would be for the convenience of the House, and would shorten proceedings, if the noble Earl opposite gave me the answers to my Questions first, and then, if necessary, whether he would allow me to make any remark in answer; or whether the noble Earl would desire me to say what I have to say first.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, I am not very well acquainted with the procedure of the House. I can, of course, answer the Questions which the noble Marquess has put on the Paper, but I think that, if the noble Marquess then desires to make certain observations on my answers, with the courtesy of the House I should be allowed to make some reply to his criticisms, because the Questions are rather vague, and wide in terms, and I do not quite know what ground the noble Marquess intends to cover.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
I am in rather a difficulty. I am afraid I am a little bit inquisitive, but I asked eight Questions, to which I do not get any answer. Slay I ask the noble Earl, at any rate, this? Does he intend to reverse the policy as regards Crown Lands and to go on with the sale of the Crown Lands, or shall we confine the remarks that we have to make simply to small holdings?
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
I think I may tell the noble Marquess at once that at the present moment it is not contemplated to sell any of the Crown Lands.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
That clears the ground, and makes it very much easier. In consequence of the answer given by the noble Earl I may confine myself entirely to the question of small 430 holdings and settling soldiers on the land. Perhaps I might be forgiven if I made a comparison with regard to the settlement on the land of persons who required small holdings before the war, and the numbers so settled since the war. It will be remembered that in 1907 the Liberal Government of the day brought in an Allotment Bill, which was passed and blessed by your Lordships' House, and which I think, on the whole, had very satisfactory results. The Report for 1914, which was published in 1915, gave the following figures. The total loss for the seven years on those small holdings, for remission of rent and loss of rent, was a little over £700, and included in that £700 there was a, sum of nearly £400 which had to he paid in 1912 to the Norfolk County Council to recoup some small holders who, by something like a visitation of God, had all their small holdings washed out by a waterspout. In that period of seven years the total cost to the Suite was £44,000 a year.
Then in 1914 the war broke out and the County Council bought no more land, and it was not till 1918, when the war came happily to au end, that it seemed necessary to meet the great demand which we understood existed for land among men who had been fighting at the front. These men wished to raise themselves from the rank of agricultural labourers, and to have some sort of stake in the land, which, as Lord Northcliffe said, they were determined to fashion and to share. Therefore, Lord Ernie, whom I am very glad to see in his place, very wisely determined to start some sort of scheme so as to get these men put upon the land. I believe it was started in 1918, and I am not aware of what those proposals were, or to how great an extent the noble Lord was connected with them. I think he resigned in 1919, and was succeeded by Lord Lee of Fareham, on whom, I think I may fairly say, the whole working of the measure rested. I do not wish to lay any censure of any sort upon him, or upon the present Minister of Agriculture, or upon the permanent officials of the Department, with which I was so long and so happily connected. All they had to do was to carry out their orders. They did so to the best of their abilities, but I honestly think that the scheme was a very had one, and that the responsibility really rests on the persons who were responsible for carrying it Out.
I am in some difficulty because I have asked eight Questions, and I have not 431 had an answer to any of them. I asked what is the acreage of these lands, what was the cost; how much money has been expended on these Government estates; what income has been derived from them, and what they are expected to realise when sold; and I am absolutely in the dark. So the only thing I can possibly do is to take the particulars from the Geddes Report. They are practically the same, and they perhaps have the advantage that they can be verified. If, by any accident, I make a mistake or a misstatement I can at once be called over the coals. In the Second Geddes Report we are told that £20,000,000 was voted by the Government for this scheme. I believe that is absolutely right. At the present moment 260,000 acres have been provided, that is, about 50,000 acres more than were provided before the war. The number of small holdings covered by commitments at the present moment is 17,297; the number of soldiers already settled is 14,200, and there are not yet provided for about 21,000 more, consisting of ex-Service men, civilians, and others who are awaiting interviews. So that out of the hundreds of thousands of agricultural labourers who went out to fight for the country only 14,000 have been settled on the land; and out of the 21,000 now waiting to be provided for the effective number which according to the Geddes Report it is anticipated will be provided for is only 7,000.
I think that is a very remarkable thing. Why is it anticipated that only 7,000 will be provided for? People say there is the shrinkage. No doubt there is. But it seems to me that this terrible shrinkage is accounted for by the disappointment that these good fellows have had. They go time after time trying to get land, they are refused and refused, and they lose heart. On page 37 of the Geddes Report some illuminating and somewhat alarming figures appear. The House will understand that there are 250,000 acres of land purchased or leased by the Government.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
Yes; but there are 21,000 that come straight through your Department, are there not?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
Very well; altogether, then, there are 250,000 acres purchased or leased by the Government, and the result is an annual loss of £2 per acre all round—that is to say, on approximately a quarter of a million acres of selected land—and the House will allow me to say that this is not heath land but selected land, the best land in England that they can get—the annual loss to the State is half a million sterling. In Sir Eric Geddes' Report the loss for 1922–1923 is stated to be not less than three-quarters of a million sterling. Apart from this, the cost of what they call the headquarters administration (I suppose that is G.H.Q. or a sort of Directors' fees and so on, for the management of the thing) is stated to be £75,000 a year—£75,000 a year!—which is very nearly twice as much as the whole cost to the country of the 200,000 acres which were obtained for small holdings between 1907 and 1914 before the war. Your Lordships know what I am talking about. This House is a house of landlords, and in the good old days it was always supposed that the House of Lords owned either one-third or one-fifth, I forget which, of the whole of the land of England.
Can your Lordships imagine any of your estates, which may consist of a quarter of a million acres (and there were several estates in England of that size and larger still) of selected land not only bringing in no income at all, but entailing a loss to the owner of £500,000 a year. If your Lordships will refer to page 37 of the Geddes Report you will see that is accurate, and that is apart, as I said before, from the cost of headquarters administration which is £75,000 a year. People would say, I suppose: "That is all very well, but you cannot possibly compare the two things. You cannot compare things before the war with the state of affairs at present."
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
The noble Earl applauds that statement and I admit that I quite agree; every sensible man must see it, and every sensible 433 man must agree to it. But supposing we say that everything has increased three times over, because we are told that everything is three times as expensive as it was before the war, that means a loss of £750,000. If you take the £40,000 that the whole management of 200,000 acres cost before the war and multiply it by four it comes to £160,000. Then subtract £160,000 from £750,000 and what remains? About £600,000. That is to say, there is a loss of £600,000 annually. Where has it gone? Who has it? Have the men got it? Where, on earth, has all that money gone? I think we are perfectly justified in saying—and I only hope that the noble Earl will be able to reassure us on the point—that £600,000 has disappeared and nobody knows where it has gone.
The only solution of this problem that I am able to discover is in a Report on the working of the Small Holding Colonies Act. I dare say the noble Lord, Lord. Ernle, will be able to tell us what that is, but there was a Small Holding Colonies Act. There has been some delay, I believe, in printing the Report of the Ministry on the small holdings colonies for which the Ministry are entirely responsible. The last published Annual Report only carries us up to March, 1920, but the facts contained in that Report are stupendously alarming. Particulars are there given of thirteen settlements, with a total area of 24,000 acres of land. Six of these are described as profit-sharing settlements, and the farming accounts show a loss of £39,000 on those profit-sharing settlements.
I am very grateful to the House for allowing me to go into these figures. I do not propose to take up time by dealing with all the settlements; I desire to refer very briefly to three of them. This is what is to he found in the Geddes Report. There is the Pembray Farm Settlement which comprises 1,340 acres. It was purchased for £30,000, and £24,000 has been spent on it, making a total expenditure of £54,000. What does it do? It provides for twenty—twenty!—ex-Service men, two land army women and, with twenty civilian skilled workers to help, it lost on the cultivation of the land £12,000 in the first eighteen months farming. That is almost half as much as the whole cost of the property, and this was at practically war prices. Then there is Roleston. I do not know where that is, but 34,000 acres were purchased there for £47,000. An additional 434 expenditure of £32,000 was incurred, making a total of about £80,000. For how many men does that place provide? For twenty-eight ox-Service men and ten civilians, and there was a loss of £8,000 on the first twelve months' farming. I am speaking under correction here, but I have tried to work it out and I believe I am right that it cost £2,106 to put each man on the land.
The last one with which I shall trouble your Lordships is Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire. There, 6,500 acres were purchased at a fixed annual rent charge of £18,500, and it is stated that it is proposed to expend £287,000 on this settlement. These figures are terrible. As I had to bring this forward I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Fareham, telling him that I was going to do so, and asking him whether it would not be wise for him to be in his place to explain to some extent these frightful figures. I was unfortunate enough to receive no reply of arty sort, and the noble Lord is not in his place. But I must, as well as I can, explain to your Lordships from the Report how and why all this happened. The Director-General of the Land Supply Department, which, I believe, is a new Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, and was invented by the noble Lord, states that the situation is regrettable. I should think it was! But he pleads that his undertakings were only of an experimental character. If this is done in the green, what on earth is going to be done in the dry? He adds that there has been some loss of public money in conducting these experiments, but he is satisfied that so far as small holding settlements are concerned "the operations by the Ministry have given a new tone and a new direction to the whole policy of land settlement in this country."
Then comes the most astounding statement that "they will be abundantly justified." I shall feel very much surprised if any unfortunate ratepayer in this country will find any justification for the ghastly loss of money entailed by the carrying out of these schemes. The Director-General of Land Supply points out that there is one factor in justification for all this. And this is the justification. He says:—There is, however, one aspect of the Ministry's administration of them to which it is impossible to attach too great importance.And what do your Lordships think that is?The work was begun when the philosophy of small holdings was incomplete.435 What on earth is the philosophy of smallholdings? From Diogenes downwards can anybody explain the philosophy of small holdings?
Consider for one moment what happened. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Ernie, had anything to do with this, but the noble Lord, when be began these operations, was assisted by an old friend and colleague of mine, Sir Richard Winfrey, who at one time was my Parliamentary unpaid private secretary. This shows the impossibility of Coalition administration. It is a most wonderful exposure of it. This is the kind of thing that happened. A man who had been over the top four or five times, an agricultural labourer in the county in which I live—for almost every agricultural labourer went to the war—comes back with four or five chevrons—a red chevron, and wound stripes, and probably a Military medal—and he goes to his county council and says: "I want a bit of land." What happens? The county council, with the fear of Lord Ernie before their eyes, say: "Oh, we are in a great state of philosophic doubt as to whether you are the right sort of man to put on the land, and at the present moment we are not quite certain that we have the land that would suit you. Therefore, you must wait and see whether in time, sonic months hence, we shall be able to meet your request." What would that wretched man say? He would say what the lovesick Romeo said to Friar Laurence—"'Hang up philosophy!' It helps not, it prevails not; talk no more, but give me the small holding that I am absolutely justified in asking from you by the law of the land."
Put it the other way—Sir Richard Winfrey's way. Sir Richard is a man of action. He goes to the county council and he says: "We must have land. We are going to have it. Never mind the expense; we must have the land." What happened in many cases was this. They went to the county council and said: "You must get the land, never mind what it will cost or whether it will pay or not; we must have the land on which to put the people." I heard of a terrible case of that sort in Radnorshire. Then the poor county council had to do what they were told. They would have been well advised to think of the advice that St. Paul offered to the Colossians. In one of his Epistles he said, "Remember this, my brethren. 436 Beware lest any man despoil you through philosophy." There is no exaggeration in any of the figures that I have quoted, nor. I hope, in anything I have said.
That is the position in which we now find ourselves. What is to be done? What on earth is to be done face to face with stick figures as these? Mercifully, in the Coalition Government, we have in the Agricultural Ministry two men who, if I may be permitted to say so, are in the same stable. We have Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, a man of great courage, who scrapped Lord Lee's rotten Agriculture Bill within six months after it became law. He also knocked on the head what I may call Lord Lee's Runnymede policy of selling the Crown Lands. We now look to him, and to the noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Ancaster), who has a great knowledge of farming and is the owner of a very large estate which is most admirably managed, to come to our rescue.
I most respectfully suggest to these two Ministers that they should scrap entirely the Land Settlement Scheme, which is only a deplorable sequel to the sound and practical Act of 1907, and put the whole thing hack again from where it never ought to have been taken—namely, under the control of the eight small holding commissioners who were appointed in 1911. Those eight men were practical men. We divided England into eight districts, as in the case of Lord Haldane's territorial scheme. Every man knew his own district, knew what land was fit for small holdings and what was not. A great difficulty in life is not so much to know what to do but what not to do. Each commissioner knew what sort of people to put on the land, and if these commissioners had been entrusted to go on with the work which they had done so well before the war I do not think there would have been this dreadful chaos and extravagance now. This proposal I know is but a drop in the ocean. It may be said: "Why all this cry about so little wool? After all, it cannot be more than £20,000,000." I know that £20,000,000 is nothing to a man of fashion, but I suggest that this will he an example to other Departments, a tacit recognition that all this post-war unpardonable wastefulness has got to stop and that the public will no longer tolerate this orgy of extraordinary and frenzied finance which is rapidly draining the life-blood of the country.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, we have listened to a most interesting speech from the noble Marquess and I should not have intervened in the debate except for one reason. The noble Marquess has invited us to a war dance around the mangled corpse of Lord Lee of Fareham. I rather gathered he has invited me to hold hands with him and join in that war dance, but I regret to say that, in the main, it is my corpse that ought to be lying in the middle of the ring. It is very difficult to disentangle the various statements which the noble Marquess has drawn from various Reports, and, of course, he is a past master in choosing the point from which he will attack. You never know from which side of the cover he is going to break, but when he does make his onslaught it is a formidable thing. It is made not only with weapons of precision but with jingalls, stinkpots, trombones, tom-toms and cleavers, and all sorts of barbarous weapons of warfare; and at the end the corpse of the Minister is left lying on the ground.
Let me try to make certain points clear, if I can. In 1918, and also in 1919, there was a wave of what I at the time thought was sentimental imagination that an enormous number of men wanted to come back from the front and go on the land. We sent out a Commission to the Western Front to inquire what the numbers were. We were told that there were something like 345,000 men who wanted, in some form or other, to come back to the land. I have had a great deal to do with creating small holdings. With the exception of the noble Marquess himself I probably have created as many as any one in this House, but I long ago came to the conclusion that this was a matter which requires extreme care; that they did not answer in every case, but that with land in the right hands, land of the right quality and in the right locality, then small holdings are an economic, social, and moral boon to the country.
I confess, and I say it openly, that I am strongly opposed to the attempt to flood this country with men on the land irrespective of the locality and irrespective of the quality of the land. After all, the quantity of the land which is fitted for small holdings in this country is limited. I said so again and again, and in the Press at the time I was severely criticised. I met a deputation from the Parliamentary Committee of 438 the Trade Union Congress who came to appeal for all these men to be put on the land. I told them quite frankly that I thought there would be such a slump in prices in two or three years that the men put on the land would be ruined. I added that at the present prices we had to pity not for the land—that is a matter really of infinitesimal importance, it is the least thing that matters in putting men on the land—but for the cost of equipment, and the rate of interest they would have to pay, it was absolutely impossible to put a single man on the land as an economic proposition. And I maintain that it was.
At that time it required an expenditure of £1,800 to equip a man in a small holding of fifteen acres; and you had to pay six per cent. on your money. Conceive the proposition of putting a man, however experienced and however good the land, on fifteen acres, and charging hint £108 per year. He could not pay it, and no human being could have paid it. I resisted as strongly as I could what appeared to me to be a perfectly mad proposition. Many of these men were inexperienced, many without capital; but the country had made up its mind that it was a national duty, a kind of a great national war memorial, to put men on t he land. I told the Government at the time that it would cost £20,000,000 to put 20,000 men on the land. I said it would cost at least £1,000 per man at the prices we were then paying, and I also said that. at the end of it they must expect a loss of forty per cent.; that is to say, they must expect to lose £8,000,000 on the transaction.
That is what I told the Government. That was the recognised principle, and the Small Holdings (Facilities) Bill, which was brought before your Lordships' House in 1919, about a week after I had resigned, was framed upon that principle, and it was explained in the White Paper that accompanied it that that was the principle. Therefore, when Sir Eric Geddes, in his Report, tells this story of £20,000,000 being expended you must remember that that was the identical arrangement made; and my estimate, according to the figures of the noble Marquess, was most singularly accurate. According to the figures he read they have put on the land something like 15,000 soldiers at a cost at the present moment of £5,000,000. That is exactly what. I said.
439 Out of curiosity I asked at the Ministry of Agriculture on my way here to-day at what rate of sacrifice they calculated they had got out of certain small holdings, and they told me that it was 39.7 per cent. of the capital. I had told them that it would be 40 per cent. As to my objection to small holdings, on the ground of a coming slump in prices, on the ground that you could not put them on land at any economic rate, and that if you did it, you must do it as a war memorial, and must expect to lose £8,000,000 over the transaction, the whole of England knows, for it is an old story, that the Bill in which this plan was adopted was before your Lordships' House two and a half years ago with full details, and your Lordships accepted it. Therefore Sir Eric Geddes' proposition, in spite of what the noble Marquess appears to think, is no new discovery, and on the whole I think that the Government may congratulate itself that it did not allow itself to be carried away by a sweep of sentimental imagination and put on the land an enormous number of unfortunate men who would have been assuredly ruined by the recent slump. It is the weakest who first go to the wall, and the man at the bottom of the scale on the agricultural ladder is the man who feels the fall in prices first.
The noble Marquess alluded to certain small holding settlements and certain profit-sharing farms which were run by the Ministry of Agriculture. I should like, if I may, to say a word upon that. The scheme of small holdings, or what were called—I think, mistakenly—colonies, was started by the Government in 1916, on the Report of Sir Harry Verney's Committee, of which a prominent member of this House, Lord Northbrook, was a member, and it was in deference to their opinion that in 1916, before I was in office, the Government were empowered to buy 6,000 acres of land, I think, for these small holding groups. I call them groups because if you call them colonies in the country districts you set the agricultural labourers against them at once, because they think a colony means something penal or connected with inebriates or epileptics. So let us call them groups. They were grouped together around a central farm, which was a supply farm, providing ploughs, horses and such machinery as was wanted at an economic rent, and helping group settlers to develop their small holdings, the object being to obtain a unit in which you could start co-operative buying and selling and co- 440 operative treatment of the land. Those settlements are the ones to which I think the gentleman who drew up that report, the Director-General—I never knew him by that name—referred with sonic satisfaction.
The other system was that by which experimental farms were made on an ordinary bit of land and worked under a skilled director as an ordinary farm by men who earned the standard rates of wages of the district, who were totally inexperienced, but who, while they were earning wages, could learn the practice of farming, and ultimately dribble off into small holdings. They were educational, and they were devised to be carried on as cheaply as possible, though, as the noble Marquess has implied, they did not turn out to be very cheap. Up to the end of October, 1918—I am not sure of the exact date—one of these farms made a profit of £11,000 on eighteen months' working, and another made a profit of £7,000 in the same period. Then came a collapse, and they lost their gains.
I believe that in three years one of them showed a profit of £600 and another a loss of £300. What is the explanation? So long as we were running them with skilled labour, such as was left in this country during the war, they made a profit. I venture to say they were very well run then, and I dare say they were equally well run afterwards. The reason they did not make a profit afterwards, or at any rate the main reason, was that you had a number of inexperienced men whom you were bound to pay the standard wages of the district, wages that had to be paid to the skilled man who could do farm work which the others had not yet learnt to do. You were trying to make these men better equipped small holders, so that they might pass on into small holdings.
The noble Marquess referred to an old colleague of mine, and a most staunch henchman of his own, Sir Richard Winfrey. Sir Richard Winfrey was keenly interested in small holdings and in these colonies, and when I was at the Board of Agriculture and he was Parliamentary Secretary, I told him that I would entrust him with finding the land which we were ordered to get under the Act of Parliament. He took the utmost pains to get it, as I am sure the noble Marquess will agree with me lie was likely to do. He made—or rather I made, for I think it was my responsibility 441 —one very bad shot. We bought in Wales a farm which was a very great failure. I can only say that we took the advice of the Welsh Agricultural Committee, that the thing was discussed up hill and down dale, that we had the fullest reports. But it was a very great failure. I have my own view about it to this day. I do not think it need have been such a bad purchase as has been thought if the right measures had been taken. But I do not defend it; it was a bad purchase. We were ill-advised in buying it, but it was the one piece of land, apparently, upon which North and South Wales could agree. We lost a great deal of money upon it.
As to this enormous loss of £730,000 that appears in the accounts, what that means is that the cottages which are necessary for these small holdings are being built, and that this represents a gradual building of cottages for the small holders. As soon as these cottages are built, the land is, of course, divided up more and more among the small holders, and the fact to which the noble Marquess quite rightly draws attention—that there are so few on the land at present—is due to the fact that the building of cottages is a very slow process even now. The enormous expense of these cottages is the reason in the main why the cost to the State is so high. It has not reached within three millions of the amount that, with your eyes open, your Lordships agreed the Government should spend upon the small-holding system, but above all things I think it is essential that we should take Provision to get back to proper economic rents.
I think in 1926 all properties devoted to small holdings are to be valued, one by one, at what they are worth, irrespective of the cost of their creation. Supposing you have had to spend in these abnormal times £1,500 upon equipment, where in normal times you would only have had to spend £700, the valuation will be only what it is worth in 1926 to the county councils, and it will be let at the economic rent which the land is able to fetch in that year. They were very difficult times. I do not profess that the scheme which we put forward might not have been better, but it was frank, open and above-board. The country insists upon having these men on the land. The Minister of Agriculture thinks it is a mistake; that it is a time when no man in his senses would try to put men on the land as an economic proposition. The 442 money you have to spend is so much. Very well, if you wish to have them on the land you must be prepared to spend the money as a war memorial of national demand. I could answer sonic of the noble Marquess's Questions, but I think have made far too long a speech already, especially as I know the Government want votes rather than speeches.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, it is no artificial expression of courtesy if I say that I never hear the noble Lord who has just sat down without the greatest interest, and also without acquiring very considerable information. Certainly, it would be most unbecoming of me to attempt to criticise what he has said; nor do I desire to do so, because, so far as I can follow his argument, I am entirely in agreement with him; but what I have risen for is to ask your Lordships to see what is the position that his speech has disclosed. It is this. A scheme is being put forward, he says, as a national demand. How do you know that? All von know is that certain newspapers say, from morning to morning, that you have got to put the men on the land. It may represent nothing but the opinion of a group of people in Fleet Street, who have never muddied their feet with clay in their lives. That is the national demand.
You then go to the man who knows and he says to the Government: "This is a profound blunder; you cannot provide for men in, this way, and it is your duty to say so." What does the Government do? The Government says: "No, there is this paper and that paper that is attacking us, day after day, because we are not going to do it. We are going to spend the nation's money and waste it, although we know that what you say is true and no profit of any kind can come out of it." Then the noble Lord says: "You regard it as a war memorial! "As a war memorial erected to whom? To 20,000 selected men out of a demobilised total of between three and five millions. It really is ridiculous to attempt to deal with the waste and havoc of the war in that way. It would be infinitely better if, instead of spending at the rate of £1,000 per head on these men, there hail been sonic attempt to instruct them in industries in which they might find a more profitable outlet for their energies.
The noble Lord then says: "How can you complain? You passed the Bill." 443 We have passed many Bills in this House, some after great protest from your Lordships, but we have passed them at the urgent request of the Government, who entreated us not to put our opinions against the fulfilment of what they regarded as a great national purpose. This Bill, no doubt, was one, and the Agriculture Bill was another. At the end of it all, when these Bills result in disaster, the Government come down and, instead of accepting the blame themselves, attempt to put it upon your Lordships, because they say you ought to have stopped it. All I can say is that to the best of my humble power I have tried, and always without success, to stop lots of their Bills, and I believe that we should be in a much better position if 75 per cent. of the Government's Bills had been refused by this House. I regret exceedingly that the Government did not think fit to accept the advice of somebody who knew, and preferred to yield to the clamour of men who did not know. They neither knew history nor cared for instruction, otherwise they would know that Augustus Caesar tried precisely this same experiment in the early years of Christianity, and met with precisely the same disastrous results.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF ANCASTER)
My Lords, this has been a somewhat longer debate than I had anticipated, and I think that my best course will be to reply to the Questions which the noble Marquess has placed upon the Paper. In order to do that I shall have to make a little explanation, to amplify what has already been said by Lord Ernle. In the first instance, I may repeat that the Minister for Agriculture, when he made his statement that he was getting rid of Government farms, did not refer to the Crown estates but to a large part of the land which was acquired under the Small Holding Colonies Acts of 1916 and 1918, of which Lord Ernie has given you a rather long description.
In amplification of that I may say that the land acquired under those Acts may be divided into two categories: (1) land intended to be sub-divided into small holdings, and cases of That kind, found at Holbeach and Sutton Bridge, and (2) land not suitable for cultivation as small holdings, but intended to be farmed as profit-sharing settlements, such as Patrington 444 and Amesbury. Those estates which have been divided into small holdings and are still managed by the Ministry compare very favourably with the small holdings which have been provided by the county councils. With regard to the profit-sharing settlements, Lord Ernie has spoken at such great length upon the subject that I do not intend to delay you any further upon it. There was a big demand at the time for poor people to go on the land, and it was thought that this was a good way, as Lord Ernie said, of getting men interested in the land and teaching ex-Service men the cultivation of the land. Unfortunately, most of these profit-sharing schemes and farms have turned out a loss to the State. The noble Marquess read from a Report with great effect, but I do not think the Ministry have ever attempted to mislead the public, and to make out that they were any better than they were, because undoubtedly there was a very big loss.
Now, I will deal with the policy of the Government with regard to this land purchased under the farm settlement scheme. We intend to retain the profit-sharing settlements of Patrington and Amesbury, at which 102 ex-Service men are employed as settlers. These two settlements show every prospect of developing into self-supporting enterprises, creditable to the ex-Service men settled there, and to the Ministry itself. We intend to dispose of all other lands acquired for the purpose of creating profit-sharing settlements. This process has been in operation for some time, and already 5,679 acres of such land have been disposed of. We propose to transfer, wherever practicable, small holding settlements to the neighbouring county councils, as soon as the land is equipped and let. This process has also been in operation for some time, and 1,809 acres have been so transferred. That is land which was purchased by the Government, and run by the Ministry, and which is now being gradually transferred to the county councils of the areas in which the property is situated. There may be cases in which, for one reason or another, the neighbouring county council is not prepared to take over the land acquired by the Ministry as small holdings, and where those small holders have remained we intend to keep the holdings.
Now I will answer the noble Marquess's Questions categorically:— 445
- (1) The Minister in the sentence quoted was not referring to the hereditary estates of the Crown.
- (2) The estates and farms referred to by the Minister were acquired, some by purchase, some by lease, under the Small Holding Colonies Acts, 1916–1918.
- (3) The total area so acquired was 24,836 acres, but of these 7,188 are no longer under the direct control of the Ministry, disposals having been made as follows:—(a) Taken over by county councils as part of their small holding undertakings, 1,809 acres; (b) leased by the Ministry as large farms, 2,395 acres; (c) sold by the Ministry, 3,284 acres; making a total of 7,488 acres.
- (4) Of the total area acquired 12,287 acres were purchased for £346,91.6, and, in addition, 8,681 acres were acquired in consideration of perpetual rent charges amounting to £17,350, rising to £20,350 per annum. The remaining area, which was very small, was taken on lease.
- (5) Since these properties have been acquired by the Ministry the total amount expended on their development and equipment is £433,911.
§ THE MARQUESS on LINCOLNSHIRE
The question I want answered is: How many millions did the whole acreage cost? The total acreage obtained is 230,000 acres. What is the cost of that?
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
No, the noble Marquess asks about these lands which the Minister was talking of disposing of. What lie is referring to now is the acreage acquired by the county councils.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
But I will deal with the whole matter. The answers to the remaining Questions are as follow:—
§ (6) The gross annual income being received by the Ministry from these properties is approximately £45,000.
§ (7) It is impossible to reply to Question 7, because it will be seen from the above statement that the Minister's policy is not to sell all these estates.
§ (8) As already explained, the acreage which remains under the Ministry's control is now 17,318, but the Ministry has not obtained possession of the whole of this acreage, as it comprises several large farms which were let on leases at the date of acquisition by the Ministry. The actual area, therefore, let in small holdings, or carried on as profit-sharing farms, is 14,565 acres, on which 512 persons have been settled, of whom 450 are ex-Service men. Of these 450 ex-Service men, 315 are in possession of small holdings and allotments, and the remaining 135 are working as wage earners on profit-sharing farms.
§ I must try to make it quite clear that I am now dealing with the land which is the specific property of the Ministry, and which was run from Whitehall. We heard a great deal about farming from Whitehall, and it is of that that we are trying to get rid. As we stand at present, we estimate that, including what we have paid for the land, what we spent on equipment, and all the rest, a profit of 2 per cent. on the capital is being returned. We make out that the net income we are receiving is £14,000, after making deductions for upkeep and management, and that represents a profit of 2 per cent. Considering everything, I do not think that that is very bad, and it may improve. There have been big losses, and some of this land was bought at a high price.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
Yes. Of course, everything was working on a 6 per cent. basis when this was done, if not 64 per cent.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
That, of course, has always been one of the great troubles of this land settlement question—that it had to be done on a basis of 6½ per cent. Money was very dear at that 447 time. I do not know whether the noble Lord opposite is really indignant about the loss, but I am afraid that some of us who are landowners are quite content when we get a return of 2 per cent. on our property. I expect his retort will be that we ought to be more careful with the taxpayers' money, and that, perhaps, was rather why Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, in another place, suggested that the State was not always the best of landlords and that it was to be regretted that the large landowners of the country were dying out. My own experience has been the same as that of very many people—that you were very lucky, as a landowner, if you got 4 per cent. on the money you spent in equipping a farm.
In regard to the figures, I should be very pleased to give them to the noble Marquess in full if he would like to examine them, because they are interesting. He travelled over a great deal of ground in the course of his speech and, quite rightly, flattered himself over the success of his small holdings scheme, which was started, I think, in 1908, and compared that with what he professes to regard as the great failure of the Government small holdings scheme of later years. The noble Marquess is perfectly correct in saying that his small holdings were a success. He told your Lordships, quite honestly, that they were not entirely self-supporting. I think his figures were practically correct and that something like £300,000 has been paid out in respect of them.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
That is right; that is nearly £300,000; and I think it can be said that they have proved a great boon to the country. But to compare small holdings started in 1908 with small holdings started in 1919–20 is impossible; they are absolutely not comparable and, as the noble Marquess himself said, it is not a fair comparison. May I, as a farmer, say something that we all know—namely, that in 1908, and subsequently, land was on the rise and farmers were making better profits. I know it myself. In 1909, 1910, 1911 and 1912, so far as my own experience goes, each year showed a little improvement on its predecessor. That went on until last year, practically, and, as a rule, there was a steady rise in farmers' profits.
448 Consequently, it would be a very extraordinary thing if small holders—I am speaking of them now in the bulk—who were put on the land in 1908 had not done pretty well by 1919 or 1920. Some of them, as we know, have gone out; but a great many of them remain and have done exceedingly well. Everything was much cheaper in 1908 and every small holder who started then and carried on right up to 1914 or 1915 got the benefit of improving conditions and rising prices. Therefore, as I have said, it would have been strange if the noble Marquess's scheme had not been a success. I can assure him that I do not wish to belittle his efforts, because his was a very excellent Bill and it has been appreciated by thousands of people in the country who obtained small holdings under it.
Having said that, I must add one word in defence of the present condition of things. The two schemes are absolutely not comparable. To start with, the cost of buying the land differs enormously. In addition to that the cost of houses, fences and equipment went up to three times its pre-war value and, as the noble Lord, Lord Ernie, said, it became an absolute impossibility to put men on the land, as an economic proposition. As the noble and learned Lord opposite has said, every one of these men who have been settled on the land has been given an absolute gift from the State there is no getting over that fact, and I hope they are thankful. But when he goes on to say that it ought never to have beta done, that, of course, is a question of policy for which he is not responsible. It was done by the responsible Government of the day, and I do not believe—and I say this with the very greatest confidence—that there was in another place, and I am very doubtful whether there was in your Lordships' House, a single man belonging to the Party to which the two noble Lords opposite adhere, who, when this proposition came forward, got up and protested against it.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
That may he; but I think it is putting them a little low, from what I know of them, to suppose that they would not have protested had they thought it necessary. But when Lord Ernie brought forward this proposal there 449 was no pretence that it was going to be an economic scheme. There was at that time an enormous public demand that ex-soldiers should be put on the land. I was not a member of the Government then. I must say that I did not think the country could afford it and I was very doutbful about the whole thing. However, it has been done, and I think it has been done well. Certainly, the, figures are bad, and I do not wish to gloss over them for a moment.
The Geddes Report says exactly what Lord Ernle has said—that the scheme will cost £20,000,000, and that it is probable that when the county councils take over the whole business of the small holdings of ex-soldiers settled on the land, we shall lose £8,000,000 of capital, and I anticipate that those figures are somewhere near the mark. At the same time it must be remembered that there was a strong demand for the settlement of these ex-Service men on the land and, though I am pleased to say that prices are falling and these men cart be settled now at a lower cost and with less loss, I make bold to say that he would be a very rash man who would get up in another place and demand that the settlement of ex-Service men on the land should be stopped and that no more money should be spent upon it. I am very doubtful whether the friends of the noble and learned Lord would agree to the suggestion that the whole thing should be stopped.
There is another point on which I should like to say a few words. These men were undoubtedly settled on the laud at the most expensive moment one could have chosen for the purpose. It could be done now for much less money. We could buy land more cheaply; we could build cottages more cheaply, and we could purchase fencing and other things more cheaply. The noble Marquess says that when these men came back from the war they wanted land. What happened? Every single member in another place was continually asking the Minister of Agriculture: "How are you getting on with this land settlement?" They were always saying:
"Never mind what you spend upon it; go on settling these men on the land." It is only in the last three months that we have had this very determined opposition to that policy, or that people have been saying: "You must not go on with it." When it was a question of settling these 450 men on the land the cry everywhere was: "You are going too slow; get on with the settlement of these men as quickly as you can." I agree that had this settlement been carried out and managed on business lines, and not under such pressure as I have indicated, it could have been done more cheaply. At the present time a great settlement scheme would cost much less. But, as I have said, it was pressed on us by public opinion at the most expensive time one could select.
The only other thing I wish to say is this. As regards the management and the working of the settlements of ex-soldiers, having had a year's experience of working with them, I believe there are as capable and devoted a body of men at headquarters of the Ministry trying to work this scheme economically as could possibly be found. The noble Marquess says: "Why have you gone in for these land schemes? Why did you not go on as you were? Look how well it was done in 1908 by my eight commissioners." I assure the noble Marquess that that is what we have done. It is true that Sir Erie Geddes' Committee, in their Report, say: "Here we see the evil system of the taxpayer finding the money, and the representative of the ratepayers spending it." That, of course, means that you must have someone at headquarters to check the expenditure in the interests of the taxpayer.
I admit that is not an ideal scheme, but let me point out to he noble Marquess that it follows his own scheme. Under his scheme in 1908 the county councils became the people to establish the small holdings, and the eight commissioners were the persons he appointed to ginger the authorities. I believe every one of those eight commissioners, whose work, I agree, is so excellent, is now working at the Ministry of Agriculture, and helping the county councils to acquire land for ex-soldiers. Instead: therefore, of setting aside the scheme of the noble Marquess, we are, as regards the great bulk of the £20,000,000, following the lines of his own scheme.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, I will not detain the House longer than a few minutes, but. I cannot allow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ernle, to pass without some little comment. There is no man in this House who is a greater admirer of the noble Lord than I 451 am, and no one in this House was more ready to support him than I when he and the late Lord Rhondda saved the country in a most terrible and critical time. Having this great admiration for him, and for his great knowledge and eloquence, I listened with the greatest pain, astonishment and regret to the speech which he has made to your Lordships to-night. Let me in the first place put myself right. I say to the noble Lord that he was quite right in putting these soldiers on the land. What I maintain, and what I think I have proved—because none of my figures has been shaken—is that he did what was right in the wrong way. He told us that he went into this business with his eyes open, and that everything was known. He told us that he knew there would be a loss of £8,000,000 out of the £20,000,000 voted for this purpose, and the excuse he gave for going into the business was that it was a frank, fair, and straightforward example of sentimental imagination. He then went on to tell us that in his opinion no man could be put on 15 acres of land under a cost of £1,000. I absolutely deny that.
§ Loan ERNLE
May I suggest to the noble Marquess that at that date it would cost that sum, and that it involved, what was not involved in his Act, the building of a house and buildings.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
I will accept then the noble Lord's figure that you could not put a man on 15 acres of land under a cost of £1,000, and I will most respectfully ask him how it is in the case of the Pembray settlement that every man cost £2,106? If it is true that you cannot put a man on 15 acres under £1,000—which I absolutely deny—why, under his scheme, does that man cost, not £1,000 but £2,106? I will go further and say that from my experience I am certain that you can provide the men with land without this most terrible expenditure. I end as I began. I regret very much to have heard the speech of the noble Lord this afternoon, as it was an absolute confession, and a terrible and humiliating exposure, of mismanagement and failure in putting soldiers on the land.