§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD BLEDISLOE)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill lie now read a second time, and, if I may say so, it affords me peculiar satisfaction that it has fallen to my lot to do so. Quite frankly, I was once a sceptic on the subject of small holdings, but with each decade that has elapsed since the passage of the first Small Holdings Act on the initiative of the Conservative Government, in 1892, and more particularly since that of 1908, so honourably associated with the name of the noble Marquess opposite, I have become increasingly convinced that such holdings are not merely desirable but essential, if reasonable opportunity of advancement is to be provided for our more enterprising rural workers, if the output of our agricultural land is to be materially augmented, if industry, thrift and contentment are to vitalise our rural life, if revolutionary tendencies are to be kept in check, and especially if the right type of British settler is to be continuously available for peopling the waste places of our Empire.
The value of small independent land cultivators to the social and physical well-being of Britain is admittedly very great, but their importance to the future destinies of our oversea Dominions is immeasurable, and particularly so if they belong to the class of peasant proprietors. Not only are these people the backbone of every country where they are found, but they necessarily develop to a greater extent than a mere wage earner, or even a small tenant farmer, those qualities of self-reliance, resourcefulness, and business capacity, which go to make the successful oversea settler. I have myself travelled several hundreds of miles in the Prairie Provinces of Canada, and in the Middle West of the United States, and everywhere I have found Swedes, Danes, French Canadians, Belgians and other products of the peasant proprietary system holding their own and making good where too often the English-born settler has failed.
1159 Other leading agricultural countries (with less dense populations than our own) have a far greater proportion of land in holdings of less than 50 acres. For instance, England has 66 per cent., France 90 per cent., Holland 90 per cent., Germany 92 per cent., Denmark 95 per cent., and Belgium 95 per cent. In many countries of Central Europe since the War—in Czecho-Slovakia, Rumania. Yugo-Slavia, and elsewhere—owing to lack of foresight in the periodical reapportionment and sub-division of agricultural land, domestic peace has been threatened and agricultural output has been restricted owing to land revolutions, such as none of your Lordships would desire to see in this country. Fortunately here all three political Parties are favourable to the extension of small holdings. If their success has not been quite as marked in this country as in some other countries, it is due mainly to the disinclination of our individualistic race to co-operate for their economic betterment, and the comparative lack of facilities for agricultural co-operation which have existed in the past in most parts of Great Britain. In this respect, fortunately, there are many evidences of improvement. Even the National Farmers' Union, a body which at one time was strongly opposed to agricultural co-operation, is now interesting itself in the movement, and has a committee which devotes its activities entirely to this subject. But co-operation is found to be most firmly entrenched in those countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, where the cultivator is also the owner, and by giving special encouragement in this Bill as we do to the establishment of proprietary holdings, it is hoped, amongst other results, to give the rural co-operative movement a much needed impetus.
The late Danish Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Madsen Mygdal—a most eminent agriculturist who probably has done more in recent years for the development of Danish agriculture than any other one man—when he was addressing the British Dairy Farmers' Association, while on their visit to Denmark three years ago, spoke as follows:—The Danish farmers are freeholders. We know of tenure, but it is of no importance. If the farmers were not working on their own properties, it would be impossible to create such agricultural activity as is common in this country. In few other 1160 countries has agriculture invested so much money in buildings, livestock, implements, and in the enrichment of the soil, as in Denmark. But it all depends upon the fact that the farmer and his son have the feeling of security that they are working on their own land and for themselves, and always have the right to harvest where they have sown. …The tie that has united our many thousands of small or medium size farms is the co-operative movement. Thanks to this it has been possible to parcel out the land and divide the production in a great number of independent work-shops, and then again collect them all together in one great homogeneous production.In this connection I should like to say—because the Bill itself does not on the face of it make it perfectly clear—that on a perfectly sound basis it has been found possible in this Bill to enable the statutory small holder to become the owner of his holding by making exactly the same annual payment as he would make by way of rent if he were a perpetual tenant, the difference being that, whereas the tenant has his repairs executed for him, the embryo owner carries out his own repairs and at far less cost than a county council can execute them. Of course, I need not stress that over-much. I am sure every landowner and his agent must be perfectly well aware that when it comes to contracting for estate repair work considerable expense is involved, whereas in the case of many smaller men who do their own repairs such repairs can be efficiently carried out at very much less cost.
That experienced economists are not opposed to the extension of small holdings is evidenced by the Report two years ago of the Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation, which contains the following paragraph:—The experience of the movement as a whole is that there is room for an active small holdings policy in British agriculture and that a considerable extension in this class of holding is desirable and possible.Let me remind the House shortly of the results of previous land settlement legislation. Under the main Act, that of 1908, 14,000 men were settled on the land between that year and 1914, and of this number less than 5 per cent. were failures. Under the Land Settlement Facilities Act of 1919 which has been much criticised in this House, which made special provisions for ex-Service men, about 22,000 men have been settled since the Armistice, during a period of 1161 severe depression and, as your Lordships will realise, serious depreciation in the value of agricultural assets, particularly farm stock. But of these the majority are making a success of their holdings and only about 10 per cent have been failures. This figure is not large considering how very unsuitable many of these men were for agricultural activities. This last settlement scheme has necessarily proved costly, and is now being wound up.
This Bill leaves untouched most of the important provisions of the Small Holdings Act, 1908. The main alterations in the law which it contains are four only. The first is the contribution by the Exchequer (under Clause 2) towards any loss incurred by a county council in respect of new small holdings of an amount not exceeding 75 per cent. of such loss. The second is the provision (under Clause 5) of equal opportunities for purchase and tenancy by discontinuing the necessity of a deposit payment of 20 per cent. by an intending purchaser, as was provided for under the principal Act, and substituting for it the payment of a, terminable annuity of "the full fair rent" of the holding, as defined in Clause 2, for sixty years, or an equivalent annuity for a shorter period, the settler in the meantime executing repairs and paying the usual owner's outgoings—;mainly tithe, Land Tax and insurance.
The third respect in which the present law is altered is in the authorisation, by Clauses 13 and 14, of county councils to make an advance to an intending purchaser of any holding within the county up to nine-tenths of its value, repayable by a, terminable annuity within 60 years, and also separately to make a similar advance to an owner of a holding provided by themselves for the provision of equipment. Perhaps your Lordships will notice that for the first time power is given to the county council to make advances to persons who are not in occupation of land provided by a county council but who, by arrangement with seine other owner of land, have undertaken to purchase and occupy small holdings. For those persons it will be possible for the county council to make money advances for the purchase of holdings up to nine-tenths of the approved value.
The fourth provision—and perhaps this is the most distinctive feature of the 1162 new Bill—is the establishment of what are described as cottage holdings on a proprietary basis under Clause 12. These are holdings of from 1 rood to 3 acres which include a cottage. These will be obtainable on the same basis as ordinary small holdings and will be restricted to bona fide agricultural workers or those engaged in ancillary rural industries. An effort was made in another place to extend this benefit to persons who were not, strictly speaking, rural dwellers, but the Government had to oppose that proposal because it is quite obvious that the intention of the Government would be abused and these cottage holdings might gradually be occupied by such persons as urban "week-enders." Incidentally, the definition of small holdings is altered. I may remind your Lordships that a small holding is defined to-day as either an area of from 1 to 50 acres or an area whose annual value for Income Tax purposes does not exceed £50. The definition is altered by this Bill to apply to holdings of an annual value of £100; and also, incidentally, the employment of the Small Holdings Commissioners is discontinued, it not being deemed to be any longer justified.
The public expenditure involved in the provision of holdings under this Bill will undoubtedly prove greater than that incurred in respect of pre-War holdings—which, as your Lordships will remember, were practically self-supporting—but far less than that involved in the post-War settlement of ex-Service men under the Act of 1919, when the cost both of buildings and of money was exceedingly high. Under that Act the whole loss fell upon the Exchequer. Under this Bill the loss, if any, will be shared by the Exchequer and the local authorities. In that connection I may remind your Lordships that the average rate of interest that was paid upon loans for these purposes before the War was 3½ per cent.; the average rate of interest after the War was 6½ per cent.; and calculations for the purpose of this Bill have been made upon a basis of 5 per cent.—;that is, half way between the two.
In conclusion I may remind your Lordships that the increase of rural population and of food output which results from the subdivision by a wisely guided evolutionary process of a due number of 1163 large farms into smaller units of cultivation is very marked, not merely in this country but in other countries as well. Every safeguard provided in the former Acts for the protection of sitting tenants is perpetuated by this Bill, and is very necessary if agriculture is to enjoy a reasonable measure of security. We all realise that these safeguards are very necessary if agriculture is to enjoy a reasonable measure of security in the future. That is the Bill, and I hope that it may have the sympathy and support of your Lordships in every part of the House. The future stability of the nation depends largely upon the stability-of its most vital industry, and this in turn depends, I am convinced, in large measure upon the reasonable extension of the small holdings movement and concurrent efforts by improved economic organisation to make such holdings a commercial success. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Bledisloe.)
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, is quite right when he says that all Parties in this House will probably be agreed as to the desirability of extending small tenancies or small occupying ownership. I want to say a word or two, based upon experience, upon that point. I may say at the outset that for the last thirty years I have tried very hard to extend security both for occupying ownership and tenancy where it has been possible, but I have certainly found that a tenancy has been the more popular pathway and I could quote more than one case where, after an occupying ownership had been created, the owner has come and begged that the property might be taken back and that he might be placed in the position of a tenant. That is a matter about which I want to say a word or two at a later stage.
It is true that there is lack of co-operation. The noble Lord did not say so quite in terms, but in these matters I think that individualism has run rather mad in this country as compared with the country to which he referred—I mean Denmark. Another point which I want to insist upon is that there are greater facilities as regards small holdings in Denmark, chiefly occupying ownerships, and that the whole education of Denmark 1164 is designed to give these small owners the benefit of recent scientific knowledge in order to make their holdings a financial and agricultural success. Many of those of us who are interested in agriculture have been through Denmark, and I recollect that a year or two ago a young person from Denmark became a pupil to my farming bailiff for a time. What he impressed upon me was that conditions here were very different from those in Denmark. He pointed out that all the best intelligence in Denmark went in the direction of farming, whereas here our industrialists undoubtedly have the leading place.
He said: "Take my own case; I am now a University student and I have to take my University degree, but while I am reading for that degree I am allowed to travel for one year in order to get knowledge of farming conditions outside Denmark. That is the reason I am here in England at the present moment." He added: "When I go back, in addition to my University education I shall have to become a farm-assistant to some well-known small farmer, and if I work well, and he gives me a guarantee, then banks in Denmark will lend me on his guarantee sufficient money to enable me to stock a small farm." I have more than once called the noble Lord's attention to the lack of that very element, especially in regard to our small farms in England. He has promised, I think, that something should be done in that direction. The man who wants credit here is not a man who has a big balance but one who has nothing but character, and it would be, I think, one of the most important steps in the progress of these small holdings or small tenancies, if there were arrangements by which capital could be raised on the easiest possible terms. That is a most essential factor in the success of small holdings or small tenancies.
I am not likely to oppose the general principle of small tenancies or small holdings. My experience in what the noble Lord knows is a poor country, the Chiltern district, is this, that far the best tenants under modern conditions are the small tenants who have either been agricultural labourers or are the sons of agricultural labourers. When difficulties arise in farming they are dependent upon their own work and the work of their families. They have done much better in every way than 1165 the larger farmers, and have produced an element of stability in the farming interest which is undoubtedly of the greatest value. I am going, in a moment, to state the three points on which I think the Bill fails, but I want first of all to say that none of the men of whom I have been speaking pay, in the nature of rent, any more than a small percentage on the cost of buildings. They have about 100 acres—a long way within the £100 limit to which my noble friend refers. When you have made deductions and the payments which the landlord has to make I calculate—I have one farm particularly, more or less a new farm, in mind—that the rental actually received by the landlord does not give 2 per cent. on the building cost of the buildings he has provided.
I want to go a little further. I am quite certain that in the part of the country of which I am speaking, which is of poor agricultural value, the land apart from buildings has no value. Perhaps I may give an illustration of that. I had to appeal not long ago about the rating of woodlands. As the noble Lord knows, in woodland one of the basic ideas is to ascertain its value in an uncultivated state, and what the surveyors who represented the local authorities admitted at once was that on that, basis nothing was to be allowed for rating at all. In other words, the land per se was worth nothing. We often hear talk about the innate value of the land, which is really often non-existent. Land existing by itself in the district of which I am speaking is worth absolutely nothing—;in fact it is worth a minus quantity.
Let me now come to what I call the basic fault in this Bill. I do not believe that you will ever have a really successful system of small holdings, or small tenancies, unless you make it certain that the tenant does not pay more than an agricultural rent for the land, or that the purchaser does not pay more than agricultural value for the land. I do not think that has been sufficiently considered in this question. There is a very large amount of land—the majority of it in this country—which has what is ordinarily called a luxury value. It has a value for purposes other than agriculture. If you are going to put small tenants upon land, or are going to sell to a small occupying owner, you must make certain in either 1166 case that the rental or capital sum is, not in advance of the real economic agricultural value of the land. Of course that makes a difference in the valuation as between the owner and the local authority, and between the local authority and the small tenant or owner.
I have noticed in the newspapers that there appears to have been a little misunderstanding in another place as regards the methods of valuation. I can understand that because in the old days I perpetrated the mistake of writing a book on valuation, and I also had considerable experience in compensation cases. If you have only the agriculture value to consider, and land has only to lie approached from the agricultural value standpoint, what the President of the Surveyors' Institute says is perfectly accurate, and gives an easy method of valuation. You ascertain the net annual value of the land as agricultural land, and you take the appropriate multiplier in order to capitalise the amount. But, as he has pointed out, in the great mass of cases there is another element, and you cannot arrive at the value to the owner, which is the basis of our compensation law, without ascertaining that other element as well as the purely agricultural element. That is the difficulty and you very often have to introduce surveyors and others in order to give their point of view. For instance, I may remind your Lordships of the reservoir cases, where you had land, absolutely valueless, which was taken for reservoir purposes, and it was held that you might assess its value as land suitable for reservoir purposes. Land, which was not worth a farthing, became suddenly worth nearly a quarter of a million—£227,000 was, I believe, the figure.
I may be asked how I would deal with this matter. I think it is comparatively simple. In all cases where you are establishing small owners or small tenants through public authorities you must never ask them to ply more, in one case or the other, than the bare and true agricultural value. If you do, whether or not you have a certain greater or smaller number of failures, you will never have a real system of wide-spreading small tenancies or small holdings established in this country. And for the very good reason that the 1167 inducement in these circumstances, when a man has to pay too high a rate or too high a value, is not sufficient, because the intending tenant or purchaser cannot foresee, with the charges falling upon him, how he can make a decent livelihood. After all, that is a test. You cannot, by all the provisions contained in this Bill—some of them, in my view, tremendously cumbrous and complicated—compel or induce them to adopt an attitude to small holdings or small ownership which, in their opinion, is not economically sound.
I find no provision in this Bill which says in terms, as it ought to be said, that, in the case of an occupying owner or of a tenant who desires a small holding or an allotment, he is not to be charged a penny more in the purchase than the agricultural value of the land. You may say—and I take that view myself, because I am against confiscation in every form—you may say that is not sufficient to pay the owner. The owner may have land which he is using for agricultural purposes, which may, for various reasons, be worth quite a different figure altogether. If you want to establish a small owner or a small tenant upon land of that kind the State or the local authority must pay for it. It is no good putting a man in under conditions in which he is almost certain to fail: that is a wrong principle altogether. But, in the first place and as far as they possibly can, the local authority, the persons responsible for working this Bill when passed, ought to confine themselves to purchasing or dealing with land for which there is no other value except the bare agricultural value. If they will keep to that then the difficulty will be overcome.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Oh no, they do not; that is the worst of it. And when they do not the difficulties immediately arise. There is an immense amount of land in this country suitable for agricultural tenancies of a small kind, of which the rent would be quite nominal. The noble Lord knows it very well in the Cotswold districts, and I know it in the Chiltern districts.
§ LORD PARMOOR
That is where I differ from the noble Lord. I will take the Chilterns. The land there is quite as bad as it is in the Cotswolds. I will give the instance of nearly all the small property that I own and am interested in at the present time; with one or two exceptions it is all under small holdings, and, so far as rental for bare land is concerned, it is less than nothing. I cannot help it; it is so. Well, they are doing extraordinarily well, whereas the larger farmers who feel the stress of wages are not doing nearly so well, as far as I know them. So that if you have poor land—and I rather want to join issue with what the noble Nord said about that—and if you only take the agricultural value of land as poor land, I believe that that land can be better cultivated and more economically dealt with under small holdings than in any other way. That is the experience that I have had for the last thirty or forty years.
The second thing is that you must take much more care as regards suitable tenants or purchasers. There is a notion in this country—perhaps it is part of the individualism to which the noble Lord has referred—that any one can farm, that any man who has got a bit of land can deal with it. That is entirely a mistake; it is quite impossible. If you want to have small holders you must get them in one of two ways. You must either get the man who has had experience on his father's farm, or you must have a far better system of agricultural education. There is no agricultural education in this country at all—;I make that statement without any qualification. There is nothing worthy of the name of agricultural instruction in this country which gives to the ordinary agricultural labourer an opportunity of obtaining knowledge of farming matters. You might just as well suddenly put a man in an engine works and expect him to construct an engine as put him on a farm without the slightest experience and expect him to do well. It is no good adjusting these expenses between the local authority and the Treasury—that is not what we want. You must institute a system of effective and practical education, such as they have in Denmark and other countries, by which, when a man gets to the age at which a small farmer 1169 generally starts—as a matter of fact, be generally marries at that stage in Denmark—he should have effective knowledge and experience to carry on a small farm under the conditions obtaining in this country.
The third point I want to make is this. I really do not think we are nearly careful enough of conditions in this country. Railway rates, co-operation, marketing, and a lot of other matters require most careful consideration. Our small farmers ought not to be handicapped, as they certainly are at the present time, in any of these directions. It is wrong. I will give two illustrations which I know are perhaps not very popular, but still which affected small farmers in my county. One thing was Canadian cattle. Little farmers living round the commons in my part of Buckinghamshire depended largely on bringing up a few cattle. That has been very much impinged upon. Secondly, consider what is called Imperial marketing. I do not mind £1,000,000 being paid for Imperial marketing, but why is not that £1,000,000, or some such sum, paid to help the marketing of small holders in this country?
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
The farmers in this country, including the small holders, are now brought within the terms of the Empire Marketing Board.
§ LORD PARMOOR
But are you sure that they are brought within its terms in the sense that they will get an equal advantage in the marketing of their goods with what is given to their competitors—although they are, of course, our friends—in the Dominions?
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
May I interrupt? I happen to be the representative of English and Welsh farmers, including small holders, on the Empire Marketing Board, and I can only assure the noble Lord that I have every reason to believe that part, at any rate, of that £1,000,000 will redound to their advantage, and our oversea friends are doing their best to help to bring that about.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am very glad to hear that, and it, corroborates my view. I am perfectly certain that this Bill will not operate unless on matters of that kind you have equality of opportunity. It is not that I want the Empire to have 1170 a less opportunity, but I want to be quite certain that the small farmers in various parts of this country have an equal opportunity. Perhaps the conditions which the noble Lord knows, down in Gloucestershire, are better, but in the Chiltern Hills, where I am, the marketing is a tremendous problem. The railway charges are very expensive. If I want to send a beast from my farm to one of the nearest marketing towns it costs between £4 and: £5 in one way and another. I need hardly say that a sum approaching anything of that kind makes all the difference between ruin and success to a farmer. There are no efficient markets close at hand. I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for what he has said. I agree with him in that and I think it is satisfactory.
I do not think there is anything else that I want to say about the Bill itself. I admit that the matters to which I have referred are rather outside the Bill though they are, in my opinion, fundamental propositions without which the Bill would be a failure. You cannot by any arrangement between the local authorities and the Treasury tinker up a satisfactory system of small holdings or small ownership unless the conditions are such, both from the position of the small owner or tenant and from general economic causes, that you are likely to have a favourable and growing industry. Denmark is often quoted against us, but Denmark has flourished because the conditions there allow small holders to have a most satisfactory industry in proportion to the holdings they have. I am sure the noble Lord will not differ from that. Give us the same chance in England. There is really no lack of interest or knowledge on the part either of the farmer or the agricultural labourer; in fact, the agricultural labourer is in some ways the last relic of manual skilled labour in this country. He has to watch his work with infinitely more skill than a man who watches a wheel going round for hour after hour in a big factory. Give the agricultural labourer the chance of education and a holding on fair terms and perhaps the noble Lord will live to see a land-owning or land-tenanting peasantry in place of those who are often referred to, but not always in a complimentary sense, as our landless agricultural workers.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, the House has listened with great interest and pleasure to the speech of my noble friend Lord Bledisloe. It was a very short speech but it covered a great deal of ground. My noble friend gave us a great deal of information and as a consequence it will not be necessary for me to take up the time of the House by following him through the provisions of this Bill. With the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, I am enabled to say that the Party led by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp does not intend in any way to oppose the Bill. On the contrary, we welcome and are grateful for the recognition that has been given to the efforts of the Liberal Party in days gone by to try to do our best to put the people on the land, which is their right and from which through various causes they have been evicted in the past.
In regard to the Bill itself, there is, of course, a subsidy in it. I will not say more about it than that so far as the Liberal Party are concerned we rather object to spoon-fed industries and we used to think that the great agricultural industry of England was able to run alone. However, the matter is in the hands of the Prime Minister, who I think is far and away the best judge in England of the advantage or disadvantage of subsidies and we are content to leave it in his hands. As to whether men ought to be able to buy their own holdings or not, we live, after all, in a free country and if a man wants to buy his holding why on earth should he not do it? We leave it to him.
The four changes in the Bill alluded to by Lord Bledisloe really narrow down to two only, and to those two, I am bound to say, the Party to which I have the honour to belong has the greatest possible objection. One of the changes is that the Commissioners, a most excellent body of men who have done the most admirable work in days gone by, are to be scrapped. The reason given by my noble friend was that in the present circumstances the employment of those Commissioners was no longer justifiable. The other change (and this I do not think the noble Lord mentioned), is the omission from the Bill of the power of the Minister to force county councils who have not done their duty to do it. The Bill says that it shall be the duty of county councils to provide 1172 small holdings. We take grave exception to that omission and, with the permission of my noble friend and Leader, I propose that we should not go into details but should concentrate our attention upon amending the Bill by embodying in it two Amendments, which have already been drawn up and which I mean to submit to my noble friend, and should state our objections in full upon those two matters when we come to grips in Committee.
One thing which has not been mentioned and which apparently has received very little notice, but which in my humble opinion is the most important of the whole matter, is the acquisition of land by the State for small holdings. The noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, used, I think, the expression, "a reasonable expansion of small holdings." Let us leave it at that. But may I call the attention of your Lordships to the original Bill of 1908? What was the principle of that Bill, what was the object of that Bill, and what was the result of that Bill? The principle of the Bill was to put as many agricultural labourers, and not merely agricultural labourers but others, on the land as possible at no expense whatever to the nation either by way of rates or taxes, and at the smallest possible inconvenience to the people who were on the land, some of whom naturally would have to be displaced or would have to give up portions of their farms to the men we wanted to put on the land. The Small Holdings Act of 1908 was the second instalment of what I may be permitted to call the Campbell-Bannerman land policy, the first instalment being the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1906, which gave compensation for disturbance and freedom of cropping to the tenant farmers of England. Then the Prime Minister (Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman) turned his attention to the labourers for whom there was a very warm and sympathetic corner in his heart, and announced at a great meeting at the Albert Hall that he meant to bring in a Small Holdings Bill.
I happened to be the Minister for Agriculture at that time. The Prime Minister sent for me and said: "What have you done about the small holdings? Have you got a scheme?" I said, "Yes, Sir, I have." I explained the 1173 scheme as well as I could to the Prime Minister, the details of which your Lordships know and with which, therefore, I need not trouble you. The Prime Minister kicked at the proposal to hand over the small holders to the county councils. He said: "I do not like that." I said: "Sir, it is the only possible way in which we can get the Bill through. You have a majority of three hundred odd"—or whatever the figure was, it is enough to make one's mouth water now—"in the House of Commons over all other Parties, and you can do as you like there. They will do anything you ask them to do, but in the House of Lords we have a six-to-one majority against us and we must be extremely careful how we walk so as to enable us to initiate this great movement and get their Lordships' assent as predominant partners. Without their assent we shall not get the Bill through."
He then said: "Yes, I will agree; but you do not mean to tell me for one moment that you think the county councils are going to get enough land for these poor people?" I said: "No, Sir, I do not think so, but it is a beginning, we must walk warily." He asked: "What do you propose?" I said: "We ought to have this as Part 1 of the Small Holdings Bill and we ought to have something up our sleeve. What strong ones do by strength weak ones do by artifice. We ought to have something in reserve." What I proposed was that we should have Part II providing the way of getting the land necessary to enable us to put these men upon it. There is a very large and important portion of England which is already nationalised. That is called now the Crown lands. As everybody knows His Majesty King William IV gave to the nation, with the exception of the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, all these enormous properties for it to manage. Your Lordships know what the value of those Crown properties is. You have only to think of what the Woods and Forests Department have in London. You know that the whole of the West End of London is owned practically by five or six Peers, a baronet and the nation.
I said to the Prime Minister: "There are in this great property quite 100,000 acres of agricultural land. Will you take 1174 these lands away from the Woods and Forests Department and transfer them to the Board of Agriculture?—not so very much on account of the land that we shall obtain but to show that, by private management, by getting rid of the old patriarchal system of management—which we were told in the old days was for the safety, honour and glory of England—and by getting the land back on proper and businesslike conditions, land can be and ought to be as well administered by the nation as it would be by any private individual, in spite of what people may say." Perhaps I may be permitted to say what happened. To my own knowledge in three years after we had taken over the land, amounting to 80,000 to 100,000 acres, we had put 5,000 acres of it under small holdings. We did away with all the tied cottages on the estate. I remember that in one instance there was a woman in a village who had seventeen cottages which were let to her for from 1s. to 1s. 6d. a piece, but for which 3s., 4s. and 5s. were being charged. We did away with that and built a good many cottages and steadings and farm buildings, and the result was that at the end of three years or so we paid no less than £8,000 a year more to the public Exchequer. I think that for that great credit was due to the new Crown agents, Messrs. Carter, Jones & Co., who were men of great ability and integrity.
It shows how an estate, if properly managed by the nation, can be made to pay. It gave us reasonable hope of being permitted to go to the second part of the Bill, upon which I should like to say a word. There is another large amount of land in this country which is nationalised or semi-nationalised. It is nationalised in the interests of the Church and the Church, as you know, goes arm in arm with the State. This land, including something like a million acres of agricultural land, is in the occupation of and under the management of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. There is also Church land called the glebe, which is the property of the rectors and is almost invariably the worst farmed land in the village. Then there are college lands and other lands in England, making altogether a total of about 1,000,000 acres of agricultural land. I said to the Prime Minister: "Let us take that land on proper and honourable conditions. Let 1175 us pay the same net revenue to the clergy. Let us work the land and let us have it to put small holders upon gradually. Of course they will say that is confiscation. Nothing of the sort." There was no intention of any sort or kind to confiscate any land or to do any harm to anybody. What we wanted to do was to act fairly and honourably to everybody and in some way to further this great movement.
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman pricked up his ears and said: "What a curious thing it is how the same wonderful sentiments and ideas sometimes simultaneously strike the noblest minds. I will give you an instance. When I was at Cambridge in the 'fifties there was a great big hulking undergraduate at St. John's College. He must have been very clever because, going one starry night for a ramble, he looked up at the firmament on high and discovered a planet. It was a wonderful thing to do, but it was absolutely true that that man discovered a planet, and, curiously enough, that very same night an old Frenchman, squinting through an opera glass or a telescope or something of that sort, discovered it too." And that, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said, was a very wonderful development and almost a precursor of the entente cordiale.
Then I said: "Well, Sir Henry, do you believe in this?" He said: "Entirely, let us do it." "But how shall we do it?" I asked. "Shall we do it now? Let us have Part I, how to manage all the small holdings, and Part II, how to get the land." Then he looked at me with that fascinating, humourous smile of his which caused, I remember, one of the best looking of Queen Alexandra's ladies-in-waiting to say of him when he first went to Windsor Castle as Prime Minister: "Well, I don't know anything about the others my dear, but C.-B. will do. He is a clever, fascinating, gay old dog with a twinkle in his eye." Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said to me: "Don't be in a hurry, don't overload the ship. Don't you take a Bill for the first time to the House of Lords in that way. Wait a bit. Wait for a year or two, let us get the Bill through and then we will bring in this idea of taking over on fair terms the ecclesiastical land." Well, my Lords, that is eighteen years ago and we have not done it yet and nobody has ever proposed it. It has 1176 never entered anybody's head. People talk about nationalisation of the whole of the land of England and all that sort of thing, into which I need not enter, but this is a perfectly sane, honest, honourable proposal which deserves, I think, great consideration.
I may say that I have spoken about this proposal to several noble Lords on both sides of the House whose character is as high as their opinion is valuable, and several of them have said to me that there is a great deal in it and that perhaps it is a matter that ought to be considered. I am going to refer now to a matter on which I really have no authority to speak because I do not know for certain, but it has been said that this proposal received during the War the serious attention of the Coalition Government. Whether that is really so or not I am unable to say. If it is, it only shows that this is not the dream of an idiotic Radical like myself, but that it has been seriously considered by men of first-class brains, and it enables me to hope and to believe that there is something in it. When we got a promise from Lord Bledisloe that the Conservative Government were really considering the question of small holdings and that they meant to bring in a Bill to further the idea, I took counsel with my noble friend and Leader as to whether it would not be possible in some way to bring this idea into the Bill which is now under consideration. But I was told by those who have all these things at their fingers end that it would not come within the four corners of the Bill.
The idea should not be very difficult to carry out, however, because I have been told on very good authority that it would be very easy to pass an Act of Parliament which would secure nationalisation of the land, that is of the whole of the land, by a simple declaration vesting the land in the nation. I submit to your Lordships that there is a good deal in the idea and as we cannot bring it within the four corners of this Bill, as we cannot offer a Christmas box to the agricultural labourers this year, I should like to bring in at the very earliest opportunity after Yuletide a short Bill to embody the idea that I have so imperfectly attempted to explain to your Lordships' House.
1177 There is only one other thing I want to say and that is to express my very deep and respectful thanks to the House for having permitted me to join in this debate. I know that people who have passed middle age ought to remember the precept they were told in their first childhood, that children should be seen and not heard, but your Lordships have always been so very kind and courteous to me that I knew you would forgive me if I intervened in this debate.
It is very difficult after you have been in public life to get out of it altogether at a moment's notice. Somehow or another in the warm days of summer I cannot keep away from meetings that are summoned by my friends of the Liberal Party—or what is left of them—and I find myself sometimes sitting in the second row on the platform and listening to the young men and young women Liberals. I believe there are thousands and hundreds of thousands of them, and I am glad to say that they still stick to the old, worn-out, moth-eaten shibboleths of the Liberal Party, that they still stick to peace, that they still stick to retrenchment, and that they still believe in Free Trade, in free speech, in a free Press, and in free land. Between ourselves I think that the free land declaration is almost the most popular of the six, because whenever it is mentioned it is received with musical honours. I find myself in a snug corner singing in a rather husky mezzo-soprano-contralto-baritone:The land, the land, 'twas God that made the land,Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?I cannot imagine why we should. Then it ends with the words, "God made the land for the people."
That is a matter on which I really should not be able to give an opinion. It is more a question for Lords Spiritual than for Lords Temporal, and as there is not a single member of the Bench of Bishops here to-night perhaps we may leave it at that. But I am perfectly certain, and state without any fear of contradiction from anybody, that the men of England, the agricultural labourers, the men who fought for you, for me, for the country and for our great Constitution and King in their hour of need—all these men want to have the land, they are dying to have it, 1178 they mean to have it and they look to the House of Lords, the great landlords of England, to help them in that desire. You often hear it said that since the Parliament Act the House of Lords is nothing more than a debating society. Do not believe a word of it. The House of Lords has very great power. You can confer this great boon if you think it right to do so—and of course you will not do it otherwise—upon these badly-fed, badly-housed and badly-treated workers on the land,, by holding up your little finger. If you pass the Bill next year it is a matter of certainty that it will pass in the other place, which in other days we were not allowed to mention in this House.
My last words are these: With all the power at my command I implore you not to say "No," not to rule it out. Think it over, as Mr. Gladstone used to say, not once, but twice and even thrice. Do think this proposition over before you rule it out. What joy there would be all over England, all over those badly treated Eastern Counties, if the news came down that you had taken this idea into your consideration and had handed over all this land to these poor people. Then, and then only, should we hear a song of praise and gratitude from every village in East Anglia, when they heard' the news that you had given them a New Year's present of that description. From every cottage, every village and every agricultural labourers' meeting all over the country there would go up that great song of triumph and gratitude and joy, that the House of Lords had found the land and that the Lords gave the land to the people.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, the measure which has been introduced to-day will, we all hope, do a very great deal for the extension of this system of small holdings, and I think that my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary should be extremely well satisfied with the reception that he has received in those admirable speeches which have been delivered by noble Lords on the Opposition Benches. With the speech of the noble Marquess who has just spoken I almost entirely agreed, even when he broke into song towards the end, though I am somewhat puzzled, when I hear that song, to know what is this free land, who is to get it and whom you are going 1179 to ask to give it. With the general tenor of his speech I am fully in agreement. He alluded to the main new feature of this Bill—the power of the county councils to provide small holdings even at a loss—and he voiced an objection to it that I largely share. He objects to spoon feeding in industry, and with this most noble Lords will entirely agree.
But what is the position to-day? However much we may object to any grant or subsidy to carry on what is apparently, at all events at the moment, an uneconomic system, are we prepared to let the whole idea of small holdings drop for want of some support by the State? It is obvious to everyone that you cannot in these days erect the necessary buildings and other works on the land and expect the holder of a very small number of acres to pay anything approaching an economic rent. My noble and learned friend opposite, from the sad experience of his own land—;an experience which every owner of land shares—has stated that the rent that we get from land now barely pays a commercial interest upon the capital cost of buildings and improvements, leaving little or no rent for the land itself. It is quite obvious that there is a larger obligation when you are creating new holdings, and at present costs the rent of the land must disappear altogether.
We are faced, however, with this alternative. Either we have to drop the scheme of small holdings and allow all the Acts of Parliament dealing with small holdings to fall into abeyance or we must face this subsidy from the State. We know that there must be a financial loss in any scheme of this kind. I presume that it is in the minds of the Government—;and I share their view—that although there must be a financial loss there will be in all probability an economic gain. The gain of getting men happily settled upon the land is a social advantage of no mean value. I rather contemplated that in this debate we should hear something of the objections that were heard in another place on the ground of ownership—objections to the power of the county council to supply land for a small holder to purchase for himself. But neither of my noble friends agreed with that point of view. They consider 1180 that it is necessary, or at all events advisable, that a small holder should be allowed to own his land. In fact my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire expressed a most admirable sentiment when he asked, why on earth, if a man wants to buy a holding, should he not be allowed to do it.
This Bill is an attempt to enable owners for the first time to acquire land upon something like reasonable terms. The power to sell land to small holders has been in every Small Holdings Act, but they have all been saddled with the impossible condition of the small holder laying down a considerable proportion of the capital value before he could enter his holding. The Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, required him to pay 20 per cent. on entry—that is, one-fifth of the whole capital value of the holding. That was an impossible condition for the class of man with whom we were dealing. It is known, I think, to all of us that this is probably the only reason—certainly it is the main reason—why the purchase proposals in previous Bills have not been taken advantage of. As regards the Tribunal of Investigation, my noble friend below me spoke very clearly on that point. While that Tribunal was undoubtedly generally in favour of leasing as opposed to owning, yet they by no means ruled out owning, and they stated in a paragraph that it was very desirable indeed that the provisions of the Act of 1908, relating to purchase by small holders, should be reconsidered. They pointed out that in this country we required a purchasing owner to put down at entry more than double what was required in any other country, and that the fact that the purchasing owner had to pay this sum was the main reason why the ownership clauses in the previous Act had become a failure.
Now, for the first time, that objection is really met. For the first time this Bill is not biased strongly in favour of the lessee, and, so far as I understand the financial part of the Bill, what the new owner will have to do will be at the beginning of his ownership—at the first period of his annuity—to pay a half-year's rent in advance. Both owner and occupier will pay, the one rent and the other an annuity, equal to the annual value of the land, and I think the only 1181 extra payment which the owner will have to make is the extra half-year's rent. It is interesting to see how far that payment compares with the 20 per cent. payment required under the previous Act. If one takes a holding of £100 a year, I imagine the capital value will be twenty times that, or £2,000. The owner will have to pay upon that £100 one-half the rent, or £50, which is one-fortieth of the value of the holding, or 2½per cent. If the holding is of more value compared with the rental, say, worth £3,000, he pays £50 upon that £100, which amounts to one-sixtieth or 1⅔per cent. We may compare that with the percentage required under the Act of 1908, and I think it is an enormous advance on any proposal that has yet been made. It will make the small ownership scheme really a possibility in this country.
Lord Lincolnshire, apparently, thinks the main blot upon the Bill is the doing away with the Small Holdings Commissioners. I do not know really why so much importance should be attached to them. In my view they are not necessary. The county councils have now had very long experience of carrying out small holdings, they are in most cases the largest owners in each county, and they are fully alive to the necessity of providing land for the men for whom it is possible to provide under this Bill. The idea underlying the objection to the abolition of the Commissioners is obviously that the noble Marquess and his friends think it is still necessary to apply some ginger to the county councils. That, I presume, arises from the fact that certain county councils appear backward in providing land. What is the evidence of their being backward? The fact that in certain counties fewer small holdings have been created than in other counties. But the fact that there are still a considerable number of approved applicants wanting land is really no proof whatever that the county councils have been backward.
The counties themselves vary very greatly in their possibilities for small holdings. Some are really natural small holding counties, where small holdings have been in existence for generations, provided by owners because, in the view of the owners; for a long time past, the soil and the personnel of the men in the counties are suitable. In those counties 1182 one always finds less land provided by the county councils. In addition to the difficulty of finance, in those typical small holding counties the area held by the remaining tenants is generally so small that it is very difficult indeed fairly and reasonably to take more land from them. I have recently looked up the areas of farms in some ten parishes in East Devon—;that portion of it which is typically small holding country. I find that, excluding small holdings of under thirty acres, the average of the remaining farms in those parishes is under 120 acres. Now you cannot expect, even though there may be applicants, that the county council will find in that area many suitable farms for holdings.
Keeping in view the fact that there is a low average in some counties of ordinary farms, I want to call the noble Lord's attention to the fact that under the Act of 1908 it was provided that holdings of fifty acres were to be exempt from being taken for small holdings. It may be advisable, now that the area is increased, that a similar safeguard should be given to holdings of a hundred acres. I think it should be laid down that your small holding class should be exempt from having any land taken from them. In regard to that particular point in relation to the increase of the size of holdings, as to which I agree, I think the noble Lord should recollect that it does create probably a greater terror in the mind of the existing tenant, and that while the provisions for safeguarding them in the Act of 1908 were fairly satisfactory, yet there is a sufficient demand among sitting tenants to-day that there should be a further safeguard against land being taken from them. I think one may be sure that this measure will have a good passage through this House, and I feel very strongly that it will in all probability carry out the objects with which it has been brought in.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I only want for a short time to draw the attention of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill to Clause 2, which allows the county council to submit schemes to the Ministry if there is going to be a loss. A great deal of doubt has arisen amongst people who have studied the clause, because it differs from Clause 1, where small holdings are only to be created 1183 by the county council if there will be no loss. Clause 2 goes on to say that the county council should be able to create small holdings at a loss, provided it submitted the scheme to the Minister of Agricuture. I should have no objection to that if it were purely permissive, but I would ask the noble Lord to notice the words:—Where it appears to a county council that the provision of any small holdings will entail a loss, the council shall submit their proposals ….It is not quite certain whether that is not mandatory. It is mandatory in Clause 1, and I rather think it is mandatory in Clause 2, because it says that where they find there is going to be a loss, they have to carry out the scheme subject to the control of the Minister of Agriculture.
I am sure that is not the intention of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I am going to suggest to him, in order to make this perfectly clear, that he will consider these words that I mean to move as a proviso at the end of Clause 2:—Provided that this subsection shall not be deemed to impose upon county councils any obligation to provide small holdings where a loss would be entailed.I am sure it is not my noble friend's intention, or that of the Minister of Agriculture, to compel county councils to create small holdings at a loss, if they do not desire to do so. Undoubtedly, this goes much further than was intended in the Act of 1908. I remember very well having something to do in another place with that Act, and the bitter way in which the Opposition of those days attacked us. We were told we were going to create a class of paupers, and I remember that the Minister in charge of the Bill said that we were not going to institute charity rents, and that the small holdings would have to be an economic proposition.
The present Bill differs very much from that, because apparently (and I notice that Lord Clinton approves of this) you are really going to have subsidies in order to create small holdings in future. Personally I have not changed my views at all; I think that when you are creating small holdings they ought to be created on economic principles. I do not believe in subsidies at all. I entirely objected when the Government gave that enormous subsidy to the miners, which was 1184 an absolute failure and undoubtedly precipitated the disastrous strike from which the country has recently suffered. Here again we are going on the same principle of giving subsidies. I cannot help thinking that the old doctrine established under the Act of 1908 was correct—no charity rents, and do not create small holdings unless they can be economically run without a loss. If you start giving a subsidy for creating small holdings there will be no end to it, and you will have to give subsidies in other directions.
As regards Clause 2 (4), I am surprised to see that the Parliamentary Secretary has put in a provision which does not exist in other Bills of this kind. I refer to the provision that Regulations have to be laid on the Table of both Houses. I am sure the noble Lord, if he had sat on this side of the House, would have agreed with me in saying that this provision should not be inserted in this form. It is merely a pious expression of opinion, and Parliament will have no control over the Regulations. I hope I shall have no difficulty in getting the noble Lord to accept the Amendment which I mean to move inserting words which will give to both Houses absolute control over these Regulations.
Then, as regards Clause 3, I think it is very desirable for the Parliamentary Secretary to explain why in paragraph (b) the consent of the Minister has to be given, whereas in paragraph (a) the matter is left entirely to the option of the county council. Clause 9 is a clause with which I entirely concur from the point of view of the county councils, because it gives them power to delegate, if they think fit, to the rural district and urban district councils authority to carry out the provisions of the Bill. Very naturally, there is a safeguard that any losses made by these bodies will have to be made good to the county council, because undoubtedly, where the county council delegates its authority, it must be indemnified against loss. But why, under this clause, is it provided that the money to be raised by the rural district or urban district council must be raised under the Public Health Acts? I think I am right in saying that the consequence will be that the houses in the rural districts will have to bear three-fourths of the cost of any loss, which would not fall equally over the whole of 1185 the rural district area. Where you are providing land for the benefit of agriculture, it seems rather unfair that three-fourths of the cost should fall on house property, and only one-fourth on the land, I think that must be an oversight.
Then I notice that subsection (2) of Clause 12 states:For the purposes of this section the expression 'rural industry' means an industry carried on in or adjacent to a village, being an industry ancillary to the industry of agriculture or horticulture for the time being approved by the Minister.I notice that my noble friend in explaining the Bill said he did not mean to provide week-end cottages. Of course, I am entirely with him there; but, on the other hand, it seems desirable to provide cottages for those employed in sylvi-culture. The Forestry Commissioners provide cottages for men engaged in afforestation works. It seems very desirable in this case to enable cottages to be occupied by men who are working in the woods in winter.
§ LORD STRACHIE
If that is the case, that is different, but I should like to have it perfectly clear in the It may be the intention of the Minister; but, after all, the Courts often put an entirely different interpretation upon an Act. Then, I noticed that my noble friend said that one of the advantages under the Bill would be that whether a man bought his land or rented it, it, would come to exactly the same thing; in other words, it would not cost him any more as an owner than as a tenant in the interest he would have to pay. I think myself that he rather took an optimistic view, because as an owner he would have to do the repairs on the farm, and in addition pay the tithe, which might be very heavy indeed, and the Land Tax. And I am afraid that in future the small holders will allow their buildings to get into a very bad state of repair. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, suggested that holdings up to 100 acres should be exempted from being taken for small holdings. There should be the same exemption for small holdings of 100 acres as there is at present for holdings of 50 acres, and I think the noble Lord's suggestion is a very good 1186 one. Certainly we are doing very little good if we destroy a small holding of 100 acres in order to create two of 50 acres. I hope that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, if he is unable to answer some of the questions I have put to him to-day, will consider some of the Amendments that I intend to put down for the Committee stage. I have gone into details to-day because I have seen that this House will be prorogued in a week or ten days, and there will be very little time for the consideration of Amendments in Committee and on Report.
§ LORD OLIVIER
I quite share the good will which has been expressed in all quarters of the House towards the purposes of this Bill, although, as the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary knows, he and I others who have been in the Ministry of Agriculture ought not to hold that opinion because our scientific advisors, like many of my friends in the Labour Party, consider that small holdings are entirely uneconomical, that the agricultural industry of this country ought to be carried on in large mechanised farms on the factory system, and that that is the only proper way of carrying on the agricultural industry of this country. I always look at it from the other point of view—that of the man who is at present an agricultural labourer. When, you find out what he wants you discover that he wants to get his head up from under the yoke, he wants to be his own master and is prepared to make it economical enough for himself to run small holdings. Our experience shows; that on the whole small holdings, far from being uneconomical, have, contrary to scientific opinion and to the prophets, proved themselves economical both politically and socially, and from the financial point of view. Therefore, support the principle of this Bill.
I am only rather surprised at the extreme liberality with which the Government are prepared to endow and further the purpose of this Bill, to the extent, as it appears, of bearing three-fourths of the loss upon any scheme. They are prepared to do that; and although the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, has said that the Liberal Party wanted to give the land to the people free, I must congratulate the Conservative Party on going very far towards that and giving them the land 1187 three-quarters free. Perhaps when the Liberal Party comes in again it will give these small holdings rent free and allow the holders to purchase them for nothing. That will only be going a little further than the noble Lord opposite proposes to go. But I object, and my Party objects, to the principle of establishing a large number of freeholders. We think the old system ought to be gone on with of gradually nationalising the land and letting the county councils administer it. In that connection we are on the whole assured by the noble Lord, as I gather that the abolition of the Small Holdings Commissioners is not likely to cause the county councils, in his opinion, to be at all slack in working this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton, said that the Commissioners were required at one time to ginger up the county councils. That was unquestionably the case, and I hope that the county councils, who so largely support the noble Lord's political Party in the purposes of this Bill, will work it with enthusiasm.
Now I come to a particular financial provision. I gathered from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, that he considered, and from the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, that he did not consider, that it was just as good to buy as to rent a holding. As the small holder is to be allowed to buy his holding simply by paying his rent and repairs, it appears to me that unless there are the compensating disadvantages which the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, thought there were, you will not have anybody taking up small holdings who will not say: "I am going to buy this holding." He is in the position of a mortgagor, and every year the equity of redemption of his holding is increasing in value; so that it is obviously to the advantage of any small holder who takes up one of these small holdings and is prepared to do his own repairs to acquire that property. Therefore, if the noble Lord agrees that practically there is no difference except as to the value of the repairs between the advantage of the two systems, I should say that his Bill would have the result, which I gather his Party rather desires, of considerably increasing the number of freeholders in this country. Ill-natured people have said that this is the purpose of the noble Lord's Party because they are of opinion that it would increase the resistance to Socialism in the 1188 country. As regards the country, I do not think the electors who vote against the Labour Party will be added to by the passing of this Bill to such an extent as will those who vote for the Labour Party.
I would like to ask one practical question. I was discussing this Bill on Saturday last with a number of my friends in North Oxfordshire, working men and agricultural labourers, some of them small holders. I said to them: "We do not like this Bill because it establishes a lot of small freeholders; but it is obviously a very good thing for people to take up land under it because they get their land at the fair agricultural rent, as I understand, and they have the option of purchase on an annuity equal to the fair agricultural rent." The question then put to me was this. One man said: "We have some small holdings at Chipping Norton adjacent to the town and we pay 66s. an acre for the land. The agricultural rent of the land over the fence is 15s. an acre." I suppose that land was bought at rather a dear price by the county council because it was near the town of Chipping Norton. Nevertheless, land which is just as near to the town has an agricultural rent of 15s. an acre and could be bought, I suppose, for £10, £15 and not more than £20 an acre if it was in the market. "Seeing," said my friend, "that my neighbours who take up small holdings under this scheme will get the land at 15s. or 16s. an acre plus the expenses, I should like to know whether I am going to be allowed to have my rent cut down to the same level? If not, why not? I should also like to know, if my neighbours who take up land under this scheme are to be allowed to buy their land on an annuity of the rent, whether I am going to be allowed to buy my land on an annuity of the rent, and if not, why not?"
I put that to the noble Lord as an entirely practical question, and as a perfectly clear point. Are the men who have become small holders before the passing of this Bill to be allowed to scale down their rent to that of adjacent land which is taken up by small holders under this Bill and is the Treasury going to bear the consequential loss to the extent of the provisions of this Bill? And are existing small holders to be allowed to buy their holdings on the same terms as those 1189 under which the holders under this Bill will buy it—namely, by means of an annuity? Those are two points that immediately occur to the practical small agricultural worker in the country and that is what he will ask. Those are the points I wished to put to the noble Lord and I do not want to take up the time of the House more than to express satisfaction that the Government have now set in motion, even on terms that I do not quite like, this machinery for extending the small holdings to which all our friends in the Ministry of Agriculture have always been so devoted.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I should like to thank the House and all Parties in it for the favourable reception which they have accorded to this Bill, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, in face of the plenitude of questions, some of which have been somewhat hurriedly and unexpectedly thrown at my head, I am unable on this occasion to answer every one of them with the precision that the questioner would desire. I will do my best. I am always tempted when a Bill like this is under consideration in your Lordships' House, to suggest that the questions that are asked from the Liberal Benches should be deemed to be answered by the speeches made from the Labour Benches and vice versa, because one is almost tempted to believe, especially on such subjects as ownership versus tenancy, subsidies and the like, that as the criticism is, as it were, in both directions the Government is probably not far wrong in holding a decent balance between them.
As regards the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, I would point out that we have to face the fact, whether we like subsidies or not, that so far as we can anticipate it is quite impossible to make small holdings a self-supporting proposition. The question which faces us is that which I think was put by my noble friend behind me: "Are you going to accept Government money in order to make up a part at least of the loss, the local authorities having to shoulder the remainder of it, or are you going to suspend the reasonable development of small holdings for the next decade or for the next generation?" In face of those two alternatives we unhesitatingly say that the national importance of the 1190 development of small holdings is so great that we consider it is justifiable in this country, as indeed in all other countries where small holdings have been similarly established and developed, to look to the Government to provide at any rate some small portion of the cost.
I admit quite frankly that when you find, as apparently at Chipping Norton, contiguous holders some of whom have entered upon their holdings under one system and others who are about to enter on their holdings on another system, there may be on the face of it some lack of equity as between them. I believe that is inevitable. On most estates to-day, if the rental of various farms were to be closely scrutinised and compared, I am sure it would be found that on a strict basis of equity one or more had advantages that others did not possess. In their case it is a matter of contract. In this case it is a case of statutory enactment at a particular time and under particular circumstances. But the noble Lord is quite right in saying that as the embryo owner develops the strength of his ownership, as the sixty years or less period expires, the equity of redemption will be increased in value and his proprietary interest, therefore, will be greater and of course it is a proprietary interest which can, if necessary, be assigned with the consent of the county council to another would-be proprietor if the former is ready and anxious to occupy a larger holding for his further agricultural advancement.
I quite expected to hear, because it was argued in the other House, that this development of ownership under the county councils would seriously stand in the way of a farmer who wanted to better himself and develop his agricultural occupancy on a larger scale. What I have said, of course, is the answer, and it has been found to be the answer, as I believe, in all other countries. The occupier, for the time being, has his equity of redemption which, of course, he can pass on as a proprietary interest to others. May I while on this subject of ownership say quite frankly, that whatever Party political value there may be in ownership as compared with tenancy, I for my part, standing at this Box, must sincerely and conscientiously submit to your Lordships' House that there is something in the magic of ownership, 1191 as is found in all other countries with which I am personally acquainted? I am going to be vain enough to suggest that I know the agricultural conditions of other countries probably at least as well as any noble Lord in the House, because I spend the whole of my holidays studying them, and I have found everywhere this magic of ownership an operative force.
I can give an illustration. Last year I was in Denmark and, coming back very late at night, after a long day investigating certain small holders' holdings, I found a man with the aid of the light of the moon, at half-past ten at night—he was a small holder—harvesting his rye. I went up to him. Fortunately he could speak English and I said: "Surely, this is a terrible amount of labour for you to undertake? Why do you do it? Are you not dead tired?" He replied: "My good Sir, the land belongs to me. I am going to get every single penny out of this land that it can provide for the sake of myself and my family." I said: "We are told in my country that this sort of life is the life of a slave." He replied: "Don't you believe it. There is not a happier man in this country than I am and I work ten hours a day upon my own holding because it is my own and everything that can be got from it will belong to me and my family."
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
No. I am entirely in favour of the development of the Evesham custom and always have been, but that custom, after all, is not absolute ownership, although it is true that in some respects it is somewhat similar to it. I wish now to refer to Lord Clinton's question. I am sorry he has left the House, because I should like to say (and I think all your Lordships will agree) that it is always a pleasure to listen to my noble friend Lord Clinton when he deals with agricultural problems. Upon them, if I may say so, he appears to me to speak with a clarity and a knowledge which are certainly not surpassed and possibly not equalled in this House.
He emphasised the fact which he seems to have discovered in his own county where his large estate is so admirably administered—the County of Devon—that 1192 there is an attractiveness to would-be owners in the proposals of this Bill and he pointed out, what I was about to point out, that the fact that it is not necessary under this Bill, as hitherto was the case, to find no less than 20 per cent. as a deposit, undoubtedly is an attraction which was non-existent before. As regards his proposal that a holding of £100 annual value should not be sub-divided as is the case under the 1919 Act, that is a proposal to which I should like to give some consideration and consult my right hon. friend the Minister of Agriculture upon to see if anything can be done.
I am going to ask my noble friend Lord Strachie to be, shall I say tender to me, if I fail to answer his string of questions, which are so numerous that I found it difficult to take them all down with sufficient rapidity. As regards the suggestion that there was a mandatory element, if I may so express it, about subsection (2) of Clause 2 of the Bill, I should like to reassure him that there is no intention whatever to force county councils to carry out schemes at a loss. The machinery provided by the Bill is to the effect that a county council must make its estimate showing the nature of its scheme, and showing the approximate estimated loss, and the Minister will examine that scheme with the help of his officers. As the Bill expresses it, he may "make, or undertake to make, contributions out of moneys provided by Parliament towards the losses likely to be incurred." So far and no further do the terms of that clause extend, and there is not intended to be anything mandatory about it.
Then Lord Strachie, as I rather expected, referred to Regulations under the Bill. Lord Strachie is a past master of this subject. He has altered a good many Bills within my knowledge along the lines which he invariably suggests. I would like to say with reference to the Regulations that I am quite familiar with Lord Strachie's form and I have accepted it on more than one occasion when he has suggested it in connection with other Bills. We will examine it in connection with this Bill and see if it is possible to accept it, but if there is what I may call a financial flavour about these Regulations it may be difficult for 1193 us in this House to make the alterations he desires. At any rate we will look into the matter.
Lord Strachie also spoke about paragraph (b) of Clause 3. In that connection we are simply incorporating in this Bill the existing provisions of the 1908 Act. The point here is the consent of the Minister being required when holdings are sold or let to an association formed for the purpose of creating or promoting them. That is already enacted by the existing Act. It is working, I am informed, quite satisfactorily, and it is not intended to make any fresh law in this respect. The same thing applies to the point he raised in connection with the Public Health Act. That is really a re-enactment of the existing law. As regards cottages for those who are engaged in sylvicultural pursuits my noble friend Lord Clinton was right in suggesting that that occupation is ancillary to agriculture and in no case is it more ancillary than in connection with small holdings. In fact we go so far as to say that it is in districts where planting is being done and woodland operations are going on that there is a better chance, speaking generally, of small holdings being economic than in other districts.
As regard the speech of the noble Marquess, I am sure the whole House must have been delighted to listen to one who might quite legitimately describe himself as the father of the small holdings movement in this country, whose name, if he will allow me to say so, will always be held in affectionate respect by many small occupiers in connection with this movement. I am not going to join him in singing the Land Song, but I was a little amused to notice that whereas according to the Land Song, with which apparently the noble Marquess agrees, a kind Providence appears to have provided the land, according to the noble and learned Lord opposite the buildings and equipment are generally of considerably greater value than the estimated value of the whole holding, which really means, of course, that there is less than no value in the land apart from the buildings—that is on the footing that the buildings would have to be erected at the present time.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
I was interested to note that the noble Marquess did not appear to object very seriously to the subsidy. He very deeply regretted it, but he realised it was inevitable.
A NOBLE LORD: Oh no.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
So I understood him. I think I might fairly ask the noble Marquess whether under the conditions now existing he thinks it would be reasonably possible to proceed with the establishment of small holdings on anything like the footing he was able to proceed on in 1908. I think he would be bound to confess that it could not be done. He objects to the disappearance of the Small Holdings Commissioners and of the default powers of the Ministry. It really is all one problem. As a matter of fact I am given to understand that these default powers have only once been exercised and then, curiously enough, they were exercised, not on the initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture, but on the initiative of a county borough which thought it convenient to enlist the assistance of the central Department in putting pressure where it was required. So in fact this so called ginger has not in the light of experience been found necessary except, possibly, at the very outset.
The truth of the matter is that the county councils who entered upon their task in 1908 and earlier with considerable hesitation—and obsessed, as noble Lords opposite might say, to some extent by Conservative prejudices—have developed an immense amount of experience, have lost a good deal of their perhaps unreasoning caution and are able now to boast of being able to conduct their small holding estates with considerable efficiency and on the whole with great success. There may be a few county councils which have not moved as fast as others. As my noble friend Lord Clinton pointed out conditions are very different. I fear I must join issue, if he will forgive me, with my noble friend Lord Parmoor, in suggesting that poor land can in many instances be made a more satisfactory proposition for the small holder than for the large holder. I venture to say that it is the experience of all civilised countries where small holdings have been established that as a rule it is 1195 not wise, not prudent and not economic to put small holders on any but reasonably good land.
§ LORD PARMOOR
What I said was that small holdings from an agricultural point of view did better on poor land than the large holdings.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
In any case I should find it difficult to agree with that proposition. The noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, in his comments was on the whole favourable to the Bill, and he very rightly said that his criticisms were largely of matters outside the scope of the Bill. He knows without my telling him that on matters such as transport, marketing and the like, and also on the subject of agricultural education, I am entirely in accord with what he says. The marketing of agricultural produce in this country is chaotic. I make him a present of it. It is chaotic. We are doing what we can—to some extent through the Empire Marketing Board, which fortunately applies to British produce as well as oversea, produce—to improve the system of marketing in this country.
The noble Marquess would naturally object if I did not refer to the question of Crown lands and lands in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I am given to understand that the Commissioners of Crown Land are endeavouring as far as possible to create small holdings on their estates whenever practicable and when the land is suitable for the purpose. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, is going to ask me, on another occasion, something about small holdings at Patrington. I would remind the House that that particular small 1196 holdings scheme, which we all admit has proved a financial failure, was developed on land which used to be in the hands of the Commissioners of Crown Lands and was, unfortunately, found unsuitable for the purpose. This shows that we must be careful how we hurry to acquire land that is in the hands of the Crown Commissioners for the purpose of small holdings.
As regards the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, they are in exactly the same position as any other owners of landed property and it is perfectly open to any county council under this machinery to take land for the purpose of small holdings if it is suitable and convenient to do so. I do not know that at, this stage I can conveniently say anything more with regard to this Bill. I thank your Lordships for your reception of it and I venture to hope that you will assist me at this period of the Session to carry it through before Christmas without emphasising too much your desire to amend it in various particulars. I hope that your Lordships' kind assistance will be continued at other stages of the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.