HL Deb 08 December 1926 vol 65 cc1364-92

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bledisloe.)

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:

Power of Minister to contribute towards losses.

2.—(1) Where it appears to a county council that the provision of any small holdings will entail a loss, the council shall submit their proposals to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (hereinafter referred to as the Minister), together with estimates in the prescribed form of the expenses (whether on capital or income account) in relation thereto likely to be incurred by the council and of the sums likely to be received by the council either by way of rent or purchase money or otherwise.

(4) The Minister may, subject to the approval of the Treasury, make Regulations for carrying this section into effect: Provided that every Regulation so made shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be after it is made, and if an address is presented by either House within twenty-one days during which that House has sat next, after any Regulation is laid before it praying that the Regulation may be annulled, His Majesty in Council may annul the Regulation without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.

LORD STRACHIE moved, after subsection (1), to insert the following proviso:— 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. The noble Lord said: On the Second Reading of this Bill I explained the Amendment that I intended to move in order that the noble Lord might be in a position when we came to the Committee stage to give reasons against it. I then stated that I had been told by a very high legal authority that there was a great deal of doubt whether county councils would be under an obligation to provide small holdings where a loss would be entailed. If the noble Lord assures me that that is not the case and that he has taken higher legal authority than mine, I shall be content. The Parliamentary Secretary, no doubt, can give a legal opinion on this question and I will therefore ask him if he will do that. He knows my point.

I explained that I thought it was very possible, unless the proviso which I have put on the Paper was inserted, that it might be that a future Minister—I do not say the present Minister, but some Labour Minister, for instance, and we are told that within the next three years we shall have a Labour Government—might interpret this Bill as giving him a right to say that county councils must introduce schemes and lay them before the Ministry, although they would incur a loss. I beg to move—

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 4, at end insert the said proviso—(Lord Strachie.)


I should like to ask a question which is germane to this Amendment. This clause provides for a case where the county council, having estimated for a loss on the scheme, submit their proposals to the Minister. If he approves then certain grants may be made out of public funds to meet that loss. So far as I can understand there is no intimation in the Bill as to what happens if there is not a loss. Can the county council then go on with the scheme at their own risk or must the scheme drop? There are several instances later in which it is stated what is to happen without the consent of the Minister. That may of course only apply to cases where the consent of the Minister is not required, but it seems to me that it may also apply to a case where the consent of the Minister has been asked for and has not been given. I do not know whether the question has been raised before, bet I think it would clear up matters if the noble Lord had at his command the information to enable him to answer that question.


I will first take the point put to me by my noble friend Lord Clinton. I think the simple answer is this. A council cannot go on at its own risk if it fails to receive the imprimatur of the Minister, and for a reason which is made perfectly clear, I think, in the second paragraph of Clause 4. If my noble friend will read the proviso he will see that it says: ….the county council shall not acquire land for such purpose as aforesaid without the consent of the Minister unless the council are satisfied that the transaction will not involve any loss to the council. So the noble Lord will see that the council is tied in the matter of the acquisition of land in any case in which the Minister has turned down the original application.

As regards the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Strachie, I must confess to him that with such legal training as I may myself possess and with the assistance of considerable and expert legal opinion from outside, I have most carefully studied this Amendment, and I am just as much at a loss to-day as I was yesterday to understand what the noble Lord desires to be effected by his Amendment. So far as I can see the Amendment really dims nothing that the Bill does not already do. If the noble Lord will carefully study Clause 1 he will notice that them is a definite duty thereby laid upon a county council to provide small holdings if they are of opinion that they can do so without incurring loss, and then the clause goes on to say: and, subject to the provisions of this part of this Act.… which, of course, means Clause 2 and that part of Clause 4 which I have just read— it shall be lawful for them.… it is not mandatory, it is permissive… to do so notwithstanding that it appears to them that a loss may thereby be incurred. It is, therefore, quite obvious that there is no compulsion upon any county council to provide small holdings at a loss to themselves or their ratepayers.

Then, as I have already pointed out in answer to my noble friend Lord Clinton, the proviso in Clause 4 makes it perfectly clear that an attempt by a county council to acquire land if a loss is to be incurred, without the consent of the Minister, will have the result of preventing any public contribution being made, and in fact would land the council in the long run in the risk of having a mandamus executed against it. The whole point, if it requires repetition, is that no obligation whatever is imposed by the Bill upon county councils to provide small holdings at a loss, and I venture to submit to your Lordships' House that that is perfectly clear from the text of the Bill.


I desire to say that, having read the Bill as one might who had the desire to use the Bill with the utmost lack of scruple in the public interest, I examined the clause to see whether there was any possibility that any kind of limitation would be imposed by the Amendment of the noble Lord. I cannot see that the Amendment adds anything to the Bill. Consequently I am prepared to support the Government in opposing it.


After what has been said by the noble Lord in charge of the Bill I cannot press my Amendment and I ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD STRACHIE moved, in the proviso in subsection (4), to omit all words after "Provided that every regulation so made," and to insert: shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after it is made, and if either House of Parliament, within the next subsequent twenty-one days on which that House has sat next after the Regulation is laid before them, presents an address to His Majesty praying that the Regulation or any part of it may be annulled, it shall thenceforth be void but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder or to the making of new Regulations.

The noble Lord said: This is an Amendment which I also indicated on Second Reading that I should move on the ground that it has been the custom of the House for a great many years. Owing to the large number of Regulations and Orders now laid upon the Table of the House, instead of having them set out in Acts of Parliament, it is a safeguard that both Houses may have the right to express their opinion whether these Orders should have the effect of law or not. In this particular case I am simply following the precedent of another Bill which has left your Lordships' House and gone to another place, but I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture is going to say this is a perfectly different matter.

He is going to plead the point of privilege, and to suggest that, if we put this Amendment into the Bill, we shall be interfering with the rights of the House of Commons. I hope that he will be able to tell us against what Standing Order of the House of Commons we shall be transgressing. The Parliament Act certainly does not account for it. I am interested to find a member of a Conservative Government trying to restrict the powers of the House of Lords. Generally speaking, the Party to which I belong is accused of taking that course. I am surprised to find the noble Lord objecting to this Amendment, which gives this House the same power over the Regulation as that possessed by the House of Commons, and, if he is going to suggest that his objection is based on the fact that this is a financial matter, I should like him to tell us under what Standing Order of the House of Commons it would come.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 39, leave out from ("made") to end of line 4 on page 3, and insert the said words.—(Lord Strachie.)


I am bound to say that I have had every sympathy with the alternative form, if may so call it, which the noble Lord has suggested to me on more than one occasion, and I have adopted it, I think, in two other Bills during the last two Sessions. But the purport of this Amendment, if I understand it aright, is that no discretion should be left to the Government, but that the Regulations should become ipso facto void after being laid before the two Houses.


That is not quite right, if the noble Lord will excuse me. They become void if either House objects to them, but not merely by being laid.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I meant to add: "if either House objects." I have consulted experts on this subject—I do not speak as an expert myself—and I understand that, desirable though the noble Lord's form of 'Words would be in most cases, there is in this case the technical objection that the Regulations under this particular clause deal with financial matters only, and it is suggested to me that you cannot properly vest in the House of Lords an absolute right to annul them. Your Lordships will see that under this Amendment either House of Parliament—not both Houses of Parliament acting together—would have the right to object to the Regulations, and in consequence they would become null and void. I am advised that this would be contrary to the privileges of another place, and would undoubtedly be objected to there. I hone that in the circumstances the noble Lord will be good enough to withdraw his Amendment.


The noble Lord who has just sat down will, I hope, allow me to point out to him that he has not explained under which regulation it is that the Amendment proposed by my noble friend is a violation of the traditional regulations of this House with regard to finance. This is obviously a difficult point that none of us would wish to settle at once and, if it were generally agreeable, I think it might be brought up again on Report. I am bound to say that it looks to me as if it were stretching the privileges of the House of Commons to the most extreme point to say that, in regard to an Address to His Majesty the King, your Lordships' House should not be allowed to proceed. Certainly, as my noble friend said, there is nothing to be found within the limits of the Parliament Act which would prevent, it.

I have just looked at the famous Resolution of the House of Commons in 1678 and I am bound to say that I really do not see under which clause of that it can be brought in. I do not, however, want to make an argument of it now, but with the consent of the House we might adjourn this matter until the Report stage, and then consider whether anything can be done. As the noble Lord apparently wants to reduce the privileges of your Lordships' House perhaps he might agree to the House of Commons being given this power. I repeat that I do not want to argue the matter now, and I suggest that the noble Lord should allow the matter to be put off to the Report stage, which would give us an opportunity of seeing whether this does infringe the general financial regulation.


I am sorry that have not made myself clear on one point. I have no desire to reduce the privileges of your Lordship' House. I think I said that I have been very anxious to accept this Amendment, but in face of expert opinion I have found it difficult to do so. I would like to draw the noble Earl's attention to one point. He will notice from the marginal note of this clause on page 1 that this clause relates solely to the "Power of Minister to contribute towards losses." Then he will notice that subsection (4), which deals with this matter of Regulations, says:— The Minister may, subject to the approval of the Treasury, make Regulations for carrying this section into effect. The section admittedly deals only with the power of the Minister to make contributions towards losses. I cannot, however, resist the appeal of the noble Earl, particularly as there is a possibility of reducing the already scanty privileges of this House, and I certainly accept his suggestion that the matter should be reconsidered before Report.


I will in the circumstances ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Power to acquire land for small holdings]:

LORD CLINTON moved to insert at the end of the clause:— Provided further that where any land acquired for small holdings has not within two years thereafter been used or prepared for that purpose, the land shall be offered to the person from whom it was acquired or his successor in title at the price at which it was acquired by the county council; and where a portion only of the land has not been so used or prepared, that portion shall be offered to such person at the proportionate price paid by the council for the land acquired from that person or at his option, and in default of agreement at a price to be determined by arbitration.

The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to restore to owners of land sold to county councils for small holding purposes the rights of preemption, given to them under the Act of 1908 and withdrawn under the Act of 1919. The Act of 1908 lays down that where a county council, having acquired land for small holdings, desires afterward to sell it at any time before buildings are erected or works entered upon, the provisions of the Lands Clauses Act, giving the original owner of the land or his successors in title a right of preemption, will apply. The position, I think, is a very plain one. An owner sells land to the county council for a certain purpose—namely, small holdings. That is the purpose for which the county council buys the land, but there may be, and have been, very many cases where a county council has endeavoured without success to dispose of the whole or part of the land and has put up the remainder for sale. It may sell to a speculative builder, which may be a great detriment to the locality or to the original owner's remaining estate, and we think it is fair before that is done that a chance should be given to the original owner who, finding that the land is not sold for the purpose for which he parted with it, should be able to get it back at something like the original price.

In my Amendment I have suggested, first of all, that he should be allowed to repurchase it at the proportionate price per acre, but obviously it will very frequently be impossible that he should buy at that price because the part of the land which the council have not been able to dispose of will generally be the worst part, and, of course, will be worth less per acre. In those circumstances it seems reasonable that the owner should be allowed to have a price fixed, not according to proportionate value, but according to the view of an arbitrator, of course appointed jointly by the parties. I have limited the time in which this pre-emption may be allowed to take place to two years. I think that is probably sufficient time, but I am not very particular about the period, only I must have a limit to avoid this right of pre-emption interfering with Clause 8 of this Bill.

I think it would be unfair to give an owner a right there because that clause deals with cases where a small holder to whom land has been sold has for some cause or another failed; the county council will then resume possession, and will pay over to the small holder the result of the sale, if the county council sells. Obviously the county council in the interests of the small holder must have the full right to sell at the highest price in those cases, and I do not want at all to interfere with that; but I think that in the case which I have originally stated, where within the course of a year or two it has become clear that the county council do not require the land for the purpose for which they have bought it, the original owner should have the right of pre-emption.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 12, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Clinton.)


My Lords, this proviso purports to deal with land acquired for small holdings, whether sold voluntarily or obtained compulsorily. I imagine that my noble friend, in suggesting this Amendment, has in mind the Land Clauses Act of 1845.


As applied to the Act of 1908.


As applied to the Act of 1908. That Act required that if land was taken compulsorily, and it was subsequently found that the whole, or part of it, was not required for the purpose for which it had been taken, the part not required should be offered by the local authority, first to the person from whom it was taken or his heirs title, and subsequently to other owners in the neighbourhood. It will be seen that the provisions of the 1845 Act were very much the same as the suggestion contained in the Amendment moved hl my noble friend, except that his Amendment goes further than the 1845 Act, and extends the arrangement to all land, even if it has been sold voluntarily by the owner.

The provisions of the Land Clauses Act of 1845 were found in practice to be so hampering that the requirement was repealed on the deliberate judgment of Parliament. They were repealed at as recent a date as 1919 by the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act. It is impossible at this date to go back on the decision on a matter of principle which was then arrived at. After all, when an owner sells land, whether voluntarily or compulsorily, he receives the full value of such land, together with compensation for severance. There is no reason, therefore, why he should be given some special pre-emption in the event of the council selling such land because it is surplus to their requirements. The normal course in such cases is for the council to sell land by auction, and the original owner, if he desires to re-purchase, can attend the auction and bid for it. In this way all question as to price and the necessity of employing an arbitrator is avoided. It is for these reasons that I do not find it possible to accept this Amendment of my noble friend.


I do not want to press the argument really upon this question, but my noble friend laid considerable stress upon the fact that in my Amendment I dealt with voluntary sale while in the original Act it was always sale on compulsion. I did that for what believe to be a perfectly good reason—that I do not want, supposing the Amendment was agreed to, any idea of this kind to make owners always resort to compulsion. It does not seem to me to matter very much whether you sell voluntarily or compulsorily; the land is sold and it is bought for a definite purpose, that of small holdings, and if it is used for any other purpose I do not see why the original owner should not have a chance of buying it again. I shall not press this Amendment because I feel as strongly as your Lordships do that those who have successfully got rid of their land are not very keen on buying it back again.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6:

Conditions affecting small holdings.

6.—(1) A small holding sold by a county council under this Act, shall for a term of forty years from the date of the sale, and thereafter so long as the holding remains charged with the terminable annuity, be held subject to the following conditions:— (c) The holding shall be cultivated by the owner or occupier as the case may be, in accordance with the rules of good husbandry as defined in the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, and shall not be used for any purpose other than agriculture:

(4) A small holding let by a county council shall be held subject to the conditions on which it would under this section be held if it were sold, except; so far as those conditions relate to the terminable annuity and to repairs and insurance against fire; and, if any such condition or any term of the letting is broken, the council may, after giving the tenant an opportunity of remedying the breach (if it is capable of remedy), determine the tenancy.

THE DUKE OF MONTROSE moved a manuscript. Amendment to leave out, in paragraph (c) of subsection (1), all words after "1923." The noble Duke said: I rise to move an Amendment of which I have given private notice and which has the object of leaving out all the words after "1923" to the end of paragraph (c); that is to say, it seeks to remove the restriction on the small holder who has bought or leased his holding from utilising it for any other purpose besides agriculture for forty years. The clause as it stands will prevent a small holder from going in for any side lines for forty years after he has completed his negotiations for the holding.

I have lived for thirty years surrounded by small holdings and I know it is exceptionally difficult for any small holder to make a living if he is confined strictly to agriculture. In fact, in the case of all the successful small holdings I know of the small holders have gone in for side lines. The principle is recognised by the Forestry Commission, who plant their forests adjacent to small holdings, if possible, so that small holders may find additional work and additional remuneration at such times as they are not following agriculture open their holdings. I think it is a mistake to restrict the small holder to what is called agriculture. It is difficult to know what agriculture is. It is not defined in this Act, nor is defined in the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1923. The dictionary says that agriculture is husbandry and that husbandry is agriculture.

The Inland Revenue authorities have decided that poultry farming is not agriculture, and that decision has been upheld in the Courts. It has been held that tomato growing is not agriculture and that willow growing for basket-making is not agriculture. It has been held also that a blacksmith who took a small holding and engaged in smith's work was not occupying a small holding for agricultural purposes. Yet all those are perfectly legitimate side lines suitable for small holders in a rural district. My object in moving this Amendment is to allow small holders to have freedom to indulge in all sorts of side lines that are legitimate to rural occupations. I think we should be pleased to do that because by giving the small holder an additional side line whereby he can snake extra money the county council are really increasing their security for the money which they have advanced to the small holder. In order, therefore, to give more freedom and to strengthen the financial position of the county council I beg to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 5, lines 11 to 13, leave out ("and shall not be used for any purpose other than agriculture")—(The Duke of Montrose.)


I was not quite sure when the noble Duke rose to move his Amendment exactly what interpretation he himself was going to put upon the word "agriculture" and in the course of his remarks I began to wonder whether agriculture had a more restricted meaning north of the Border than it has south of it. But what I can assure the noble Duke of quite clearly is this, whatever may be the interpretation of agriculture under the Inland Revenue law—and apparently, according to him, it would cut out such occupations as poultry farming and tomato growing—for the purposes of this Act there is no doubt whatever that agriculture as defined in the principal Act, the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, would include those particular enterprises. The definition is as follows: The expressions 'agriculture' and 'cultivation' shall include horticulture— that would cover the tomatoes— and the use of land for any purposes of husbandry, inclusive of the keeping or breeding of live stock, poultry or bees, and the growth of fruit, vegetables and the like— the like being, I suppose, a general term to include everything ejusdem generis, what might be described as ordinary rural pursuits in the nature of husbandry.

I think your Lordships will probably agree that a Small Holdings and Allotments Act ought to relate at any rate to the processes of agriculture and ought not to extend to various industries of a more urban character. I hope that this will meet the noble Duke. I can assure him that agriculture as defined in the principal Act will cover the two occupations he mentioned. This Bill provides for the first time for the provision of what are called cottage holdings, and it is expressly laid down in the Bill that these cottage holdings shall be available, not merely for persons engaged in agriculture, but for persons engaged in ancillary pursuits. Undoubtedly those pursuits the noble Duke has referred to would be ancillary to agriculture.


May I ask whether the keeping of poultry or bees would be in accordance with the first part of subsection (c) where it says, "the holding shall be cultivated by the owner or occupier.… in accordance with the rules of good husbandry."


I can only assure my noble friend that I have kept both bees and poultry and have never yet been accused of bad husbandry in consequence.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD CLINTON moved, at the end of the clause, to insert:— Provided that where the tenant of a small holding let by a county council acquires the tenancy of additional land without the previous consent of the council so that he holds more land than comes within the definition of a small holding, his tenancy of the small holding let to him by the county council shall be thereby determined without the giving of any notice to quit.

The noble Lord said: This is an Amendment which has been suggested by the County of Devon and is, I expect, applicable to a good many other counties. There have been in Devon quite a considerable number of instances where a statutory small holder has done well, who has been able to take additional land and not infrequently a whole additional farm. The County Council of that County object on the ground that if a man is able to take an additional farm with his own capital he ought to give up his existing small holding and leave it to other applicants who may be approved for the purpose.

Now, to show how the matter is worked, I would like to give your Lordships a couple of instances in a letter from the surveyor to a small holdings committee in Devon. He writes: I have, a case in mind at present where a tenant has 19 acres of ours— that is of the County Council's— and is, in addition to our land, farming 100 acres. Our only method of obtaining possession of the 19 acres is to serve notice, and pay compensation for disturbance, ender Section 12 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, of a sum approximately £40, a thing we cannot afford to do. I have another case which only cropped up a day or two ago. A man came to me and offered for a small farm a rent of about £90 a year. He was in every respect a suitable tenant that anybody would like to accept, but he was in addition a holder of 30 acres or so under the County Council. I was perfectly willing to accept him, but I said in the first instance that in fairness to other people he ought to give up the county council land. I believe that is the right practice. I do not believe it is wise in this country to add farm to farm if it can be avoided, although it is very often very greatly in the interest of the landowner to do so. But I regard it as a bad system of estate management. It is very unpopular in the locality to do so and it is quite contrary to the real object of the Small Holdings Act, which is to get on the land as many occupiers as possible.

There is, of course I recognise, an answer which may readily be given to my Amendment and that is that when a man really has done well with a holding when he has got his footing on the first rung of the ladder—and many, thanks to the Small Holdings Act, have done so—it may be a very great hardship to prevent him rising further. But I do not think that is a real reply to the whole question. He has been able frequently—he would be in that position under this Bill at all events—by State assistance to make his start. He has done well enough to take advantage of that start and he has actually been able to acquire another place. In fairness, ought he to be allowed to take that place and at the same time occupy the original statutory small holding which may prevent some other approved applicant making his start also? That is the case which the County of Devon puts forward and I should like to hear from my noble friend what is the view of the Department on that particular matter.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 29, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Clinton.)


The inevitable result of the acceptance of this Amendment would be to deny to the statutory small holder compensation under the Agricultural Holdings Act which every other agricultural occupier is entitled to in this country. I am going to appeal to my noble friend not to press an Amendment which would really dig a very big hole in the much debated question of what is called security of tenure and ample compensation to a dispossessed tenant. I am inclined to think myself that there is a great deal to be said in favour of the ambitious small holder who, starting with a holding of 40 or 50 acres, finds it possible, by taking some land outside his statutory holding, to develop his business and gradually become a farmer on a larger scale. That is the sort of enterprising person of whom we should like to see a great deal more in this country. But, if any county council desires to dispossess such a person, they are perfectly entitled to give him notice in the ordinary way, just as any landowner can give notice to his tenant. The Agricultural Holdings Acts would operate, and compensation amounting to at least twelve months gross rent would come to be payable to the present possessor.

I would suggest to your Lordships that it would be rather a large order to alter by a side wind the existing law relating to existing holdings, the law of landlord and tenant, in order to put a statutory occupier in a less favourable position than a non-statutory agricultural tenant. This was a matter about which the Minister had some doubt in his mind when it was brought to his notice some months ago, and he referred it to the County Councils Association. That body, after a very full and careful deliberation, came to the conclusion that, although there were a few cases, particularly of the kind mentioned by Lord Clinton, their number was not sufficient to justify the Association in asking for so important an alteration to be made in the existing law of landlord and tenant. I hope that in those circumstances my noble friend will not press his Amendment.


I am not going to admit for a moment that the noble Lord has the best of the argument, but I will not press my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clauses 7 and 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Delegation of powers to councils of boroughs or urban or rural districts]:

LORD STRACHIE had given Notice to move, immediately before the proviso, to leave out the words "in the execution of the Public Health Acts." The noble Lord said: On the Second Reading I asked the noble Lord if he would look into this matter. It did not seem to me to be fair that, when there was a loss in providing these holdings through an urban district council, three-quarters of that loss should fall on the house property in its area, as would be the case under the Public Health Acts. I have been reminded, however, that this case will fall under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, which comes into force on April 1 next, and the unfairness and injustice will be removed. Accordingly I do not move this Amendment but I thought it better to explain my reasons for not doing so.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clauses 10 and 11 agreed to.

THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE moved to insert the following new clause after Clause 11:—

Power of Minister on complaint to enforce exercise of powers.

".—(1) Where a complaint is made to the Minister (by any person or persons in respect of whom a county council have failed to provide a small holding) that the county council in question have failed to exercise their powers under the provisions of this Part of this Act (in a case or cases where those powers ought to have been exercised) the Minister may cause a public local inquiry to be held.

(2) If after holding such an inquiry the Minister is satisfied that there has been such a failure on the part of the county council, the Minister may declare the council to be in default and may make an Order directing the council to do such things as may be mentioned in the Order for the purpose of remedying the default.

(3) An Order made by the Minister under this section shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be alter it is made.

(4) An Order made by the Minister under this section shall be enforced by mandamus.

The noble Marquess said: The noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, has been so cordial and generous in meeting us that I venture very respectfully to make to him the proposal contained in this Amendment. We attribute a great deal of importance to it, because it brings the Bill back into its original shape, and I think your Lordships will admit on consideration that there is a great deal to be said for it. What does this Amendment ask you to do? When a complaint has been made about the action of a county council—it may have been right or wrong—it is referred to the Minister, who may order an inquiry to be made and, if he is then satisfied that the county council have not done the best that they could, he has the right if he thinks fit to declare that the county council is in default.

I earnestly wish to say that we do not bring any charge against the county councils in any shape or form. Some of the county councils have done marvellously well. As I think Lord Clinton said, the county councils in some parts of England are the largest owners of land in the counties, and they have done their duty in Cambridgeshire, Devonshire, Somersetshire, Norfolk and other counties most nobly and well. Some of them, however, have not been as active in getting land for the men as others, and therefore we ask permission to be able to ride some of these county councils in spurs. Spurs are a very good finish to a cavalryman or hunting man, if properly put on, but they are not necessary to use except in certain circumstances. Nobody would think of using spurs to any of the horses which your Lordships are accustomed to ride in the hunting field, but there are such things as slugs, to which the effective application of the spur has an extremely good result.

The House might reasonably ask which are the county councils to which we wish to apply the spur. That is a perfectly fair question to ask, but we are rather in a hurry at this time of the year, and as the Second Reading of the Bill was as recent as Monday last, and this is only Wednesday, I really have not had time to be in a position to supply your Lordships with that information. There is, however, one instance which recalls itself to my mind. It occurred when I was in office, and was in connection with hospital land in a certain county which need not name. The hospital trustees refused to allow their land to be taken, although it was proper land for small holdings. The matter was referred to me as the Minister, and I at once said that the law must be put in force. The result was that the chairman of the hospital, who was the Lord Lieutenant of the county, being a prudent man, said: "The game is up; they insist upon taking the land." We got the land. The House knows that there is no desire to press this Amendment in any vindictive spirit. We look upon the county councils as our friends, and yon never know when you may want your friends. It is a small point which is in question, but it is of great importance for the protection of the men with whom, I am sure, your Lordships have so much sympathy.

Amendment moved— Page 9, line 4, at end insert the said new clause.—(The Marquess of Lincolnshire.)


I do not know whether your Lordships have perused this Amendment, but it is to this effect, that where a complaint is made to the Minister by any person—it does not matter how unreasonable, how tiresome, how mad or otherwise abnormal he may be—to the effect that a county council has in his judgment failed to provide a small holding—and I think a good many people who are denied would entertain that feeling—he can cause the Minister to hold a public inquiry with all this resultant expense.



Well I will read it in full: (1) Where a complaint is made to the Minister (by any persons in respect of whom a county council have failed to provide a small holding) that the county council in question have failed to exercise their powers under the provisions of this Part of this Act (in a case or cases where those powers ought to have been exercised) the Minister may cause a public local inquiry to be held. (2) If after holding such an inquiry the Minister is satisfied that there has been such a failure on the part of the county council, the Minister may declare the council to be in default and may make an Order directing the council to do such things as may be mentioned in the Order for the purpose of remedying the default. (3) An Order made by the Minister under this section shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be after it is made. (4) An Order made by the Minister under this section shall be enforced by mandamus. Quite frankly I hesitate to refuse any appeal made by the noble Marquess, to whom the country owes so much in the matter of small holdings, but a good deal of water has flowed under the bridges since he entered upon his small holdings campaign eighteen years or more ago, and we do feel that the time has arrived when there is no serious complaint about county councils failing to provide small holdings within the area to the best of their capacity. That being so, we think that the spur which he has advocated, culminating eventually in the drastic process on mandamus, is not the best way to maintain the friendship between the Ministry and the county councils which the noble Marquess desires. We do not dig spurs into our friends. The county councils have been friendly to the Ministry and the Ministry have been friendly to the county councils.

At the outset, when this was largely a political question, there may have been some powers vested in the Minister in order to impel reluctant county councils to do their statutory duty, but there is no such necessity for it now. Small holdings are no longer a question of controversy, but are accepted as a necessary part of the duty of county councils by all Parties in the State. I cannot believe that it is either wise or necessary to threaten councils with default powers. In other matters the Ministry has found that the offer of a financial partnership is at least as effective as the use of "ginger."

Let me illustrate what I mean by I mean by grants made in connection with agricultural education. Two-thirds of the whole of the work in that sphere, which is carried out by county councils, is paid for by the State through the Ministry of Agriculture. There has never been any necessity to apply the spur. The financial inducement was quite sufficient, and we feel that similarly, nowadays at any rate, in regard to small holdings the spur is not required and if it was applied might have an exactly contrary effect to that which the noble Marquess anticipated.


The noble Lord will forgive me when I say that he is neither fair nor accurate regarding this Amendment. He spoke of it as if a complaint from a mad correspondent forced the Minister immediately to hold a public inquiry and that after that inquiry there were various processes which would culminate in a mandamus. There is nothing of the sort in the Amendment.


I read it out.


The noble Lord read it out, but took good care not to lay emphasis on the important point. If he will kindly look at it he will see what it does. Perhaps he will let me read it. I will not trouble your Lordships with the whole of it; I will content myself with the last sentence of subsection (1). The noble Lord tried to induce your Lordships to believe that a mad person sending an application to the Minister forced the Minister to hold an inquiry. Will the noble Lord give attention, perhaps for the first time, to the last sentence of that subsection— .…the Minister may cause a public local inquiry to be held. It does not force the Minister to do it; it only gives him power to do it. And I say it is perfectly ridiculous to suggest to your Lordships' House that in those circumstances a mad person forces the Minister to hold an inquiry. There is nothing of the kind. All that is suggested is that the Minister shall have the power to do it if he thinks fit. And I am sure that nobody is more likely to exercise that authority fittingly than the noble Lord himself if an application is made.

I realise that the exact wording of the Amendment might not be entirely correct and any suggestion which would remove the fears of the noble Lord regarding a mad person or someone without judgment making application to the Minister we would willingly consider. But I do not think it is fair to suggest to your Lordships' House that it is a necessary consequence of the adoption of this Amendment that the Minister would be forced to hold a public inquiry. My noble friend Lord Lincolnshire took great care to prevent the Minister being forced to do this, and I should have thought that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill might have found some other argument against the Amendment than that the Minister would be forced to do it. The noble Marquess is not seeking to place upon the Ministry any public burden beyond what it can bear, and if the Ministry does not think fit to exercise the proposed power, it need not do it.

I should have thought that the noble Lord would have been only too glad to accept an Amendment which would give the Ministry more power than it has already and enable the Bill to be properly carried out. It is quite likely that the noble Lord will see that some Amendments are necessary, and perhaps my noble friend might be willing to withdraw his Amendment now and bring it up again on the Report stage in order to consult with the noble Lord in the meantime as to whether it is necessary to give any further latitude, because we are anxious to give him as much latitude as is necessary to deal adequately with this matter.


I am prepared to stand in a white sheet in face of the stern rebuke which has been I have no doubt quite properly administered to me. If I used words of exaggeration in explaining the first paragraph of the Amendment of the noble Marquess I was immediately checked by the noble Marquess and I offered to read out the whole of the subsection so that it would speak for itself. I do not desire to put the case any stronger, in view especially of the criticism he has quite properly addressed to me, than to suggest that it is the case that any person—as the noble Marquess put it rightly or wrongly—can initiate the procedure which is contemplated by this Amendment. But my main argument remains exactly as it was. Whether I put too much stress upon this particular individual's initiative or not we do not consider that these drastic powers are any longer necessary. They may only tend to cause friction in the working of the small holdings, which is now most peaceful, thoroughly progressive and very efficient. I hope the House will not show any real sympathy with such an Amendment because I am quite sure it will not advance the cause of small holdings in this country.


On consideration perhaps I might leave it open. I will think it over and see if I can bring forward words which it may be possible for the noble Lord to accept on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE moved, after Clause 11, to insert the following new clause:—

Appointment of Small Holdings Commissioners.

.—(1) With a view to extending the provision of small holdings there shall continue to be Small Holdings Commissioners (hereinafter referred to as 'the Commissioners'), and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (hereinafter referred to as 'the Ministry') may appoint two or more persons possessed of a knowledge of agriculture to be Commissioners, and may appoint such other officers for the purposes of this Act as the Ministry may, with the consent of the Treasury, determine.

(2) There shall continue to be paid out of money provided by Parliament to the Commissioners and officers so appointed such salaries or remuneration as the Treasury may from time to time determine, and all expenses incurred by those Commissioners and officers in the execution of their duties under this Act, to such amount as may be sanctioned by the Treasury, shall (except as otherwise expressly provided by this Act) continue to be defrayed out of money provided by Parliament."

The noble Marquess said: I need not detain your Lordships upon this. You all know what the Commissioners were and what good work they have done. They were not only of great assistance to the men that we wished to put on the land, but to the county councils themselves and especially to the Minister. They used to meet on the first Tuesday of each month and report what was done during the month, and that kept the whole thing alive. Without doing anything antagonistic to the county councils or any one else, they did very good work and gave great satisfaction to the men, who looked upon them as a protection. I suppose, however, after the reception of my first Amendment there is not much chance of my noble friend accepting this one. I will content myself by merely moving it.

Amendment moved— After Clause 11, insert the said new clause.—(The Marquess of Lincolnshire.)


I very much regret that I find it impossible to accept this Amendment, as the noble Marquess anticipated. I rather fail to see what particular virtue there is in making use of officers who are described as Small Holdings Commissioners, bearing in mind that the same duties are now vested in a large number of persons scattered about the country known as district land commissioners to carry out duties in relation to small holdings as well as in relation to a large number of other matters with which the Ministry has to deal. The Ministry does not limit those officers to work in connection with small holdings, but they undertake many other duties for which they are professionally qualified. It would, therefore, not be convenient to continue the title "Small Holdings Commissioners."

It is not necessary to mention these officers in this Bill, which places upon the Minister himself the responsibilty of considering councils' proposals and estimates and approving them with or without modification. For this purpose he will need to employ qualified officers, but no specific authority is necessary in this Bill for this purpose. I hope after that explanation the noble Marquess will not press his Amendment.


In the circumstances I will not press the Amendment but will content myself with thanking the noble Lord for the information with which I was not previously acquainted. Half a loaf is better than no bread and I will be content with that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [Provision of cottage holdings]:

LORD CLINTON moved, at the end of subsection (1), to insert:— (c) A county council shall not acquire compulsorily a cottage occupied by or retained for the use of a bona fide agricultural labourer or a person employed for the purposes of the maintenance of an agricultural property.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is in connection with the provision of cottage holdings, which we hope are going to be among the most useful parts of this Bill. Under the clause county councils may acquire any house for the purposes of this new class of cottage holdings. I am going to suggest that it would be extremely inconvenient, and I think contrary to the public advantage, that they should be allowed to acquire houses which are already in the occupation of the same class of man for whom the cottage holdings are to be provided.

I think it is matter of common knowledge—at all events in your Lordships' House—that owners of agricultural land are really the only employers of labour who have systematically provided houses for those whom they employ. We have every one of us, probably, provided houses in suitable positions for our farms and in suitable positions for those whom we employ as woodmen, masons, carpenters or in any other capacity on the estate staff. I do not think a council should be allowed to take those houses away and give them to other people. It is no argument, I think, to say, as was said in another place, that if they are taken away the owner would get full compensation. Of course he would, but he has placed these houses where he wants them and it would be terribly poor encouragement to any owner in the future to build houses for his own people if he knows that there is a possibility of their being taken away for other purposes. I do not want to prolong my statement as I think the matter is very clear, and I hope my noble friend will give it his full consideration.

Amendment moved— Page 9, line 30, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Clinton.)


I find considerable difficulty in accepting this Amendment. As the noble Lord is no doubt aware, the conditions under which county councils can acquire land—including, of course, a cottage if there is one on the land—for small holdings are set out in great detail in Section 41 of the 1908 Act. It will be seen there that a number of conditions are given which a council is required to bear in mind when making, and the Ministry when confirming, a compulsory Order. If noble Lords will read this section they will see that it is very carefully balanced. It was a matter which was threshed out in very great detail when the 1908 Act was passing through Parliament. The section referred to deals fully with the interests of land owners, farmers and labourers. If the present Bill is passed as at present drafted, Section 41 will apply equally to land acquired for cottage holdings. There does not appear on the face of it any reason for upsetting the careful balance of Section 41, which, speaking generally, has worked smoothly and well since 1908.

Let me remind the House exactly what would happen under the existing law. If a cottage is required for the cultivation of an agricultural holding, no county council would be likely to endeavour to purchase it by the exercise of compulsory powers; but if they do make a compulsory Order, such Order is inoperative until the Minister has held a public local inquiry, and as a result of such inquiry confirms the Order. That, as has already been pointed out by the noble Earl opposite, is a most effectual safeguard against anything foolish or unjust being done. Even then, the owner and the tenant farmer have the right to appeal to an arbitrator to award compensation. If the arbitrator comes to the conclusion that the cottage was necessary for the cultivation of land that is not being taken by the county council, he would undoubtedly award such compensation as would enable the owner to replace the cottage without loss.

I need hardly remind your Lordships that if it came to replacing cottages without loss to-day it would be a very considerable amount of money that would have to be found compared with what would have been necessary in 1908. In such circumstances, no council would wish to proceed with its claim, it would be cheaper for them to acquire other land and erect their own cottage. The Government are very anxious not to do anything in this Bill to modify the compulsory clauses which have, on the whole, worked well, and I am not, therefore, in a position to accept the Amendment. I hope my noble friend will not press the Amendment.


The latter part of the noble Lord's reply does not appeal to me at all. I endeavoured to deal with the point when I was moving the Amendment, and I tried to point out that the method of compensation might not have come into the question at all. It is quite true that, if a man's cottage is taken, he will be paid back, but take a case when you have, for instance, an old lodge. It is no compensation to you that your lodge should be taken away and that you should be paid to erect another in some unsuitable place. I am not prepared to say whether Section 41 of the Act of 1908 really covers my point. It never occurred to me that it would do so, because no question of cottage holdings was under consideration when that Act was passed. If the noble Lord really believes that it covers the whole of my point, I will not at the moment press my Amendment. I had intended to take it to a Division, and I shall certainly bring it up again on Report if I am advised that my point is not fully covered.


May I ask the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill to explain where the evicted occupant of the cottage to go to during the building of another cottage? The noble Lord, Lord Clinton, spoke of the Report stage but, so far as I can see, there will be none, for no Amendments have been accepted.


My noble friend Lord Bertie is, so to speak, a little "Previous." I think this question can be most effectually answered by the procedure necessarily to be adopted. People, after all, are reasonable, and, if they are not, I hope and believe that the Minister would see that reasonable action was taken. I welcome my noble friend's suggestion that the matter should be considered between now and Report. Perhaps he will be good enough to discuss it with me. As he has expressed some doubt about the provision of the Act of 1908, let me read the first part of the relevant section. It runs:— No land shall be authorised by an Order under this Act to be acquired compulsorily which at the date of the Order terms part of any park, garden, or pleasure ground, or forms part of the home Farm attacked to and usually occupied with a mansion house, or is otherwise required for the amenity or convenience of any dwelling-house— that would cover the lodge, I think— or which is woodland not wholly Surrounded by or adjacent to land acquired by a council under this Act, or which at that date is the property of any local authority or has been acquired by any corporation or company for the purpose of a railway, dock, canal, water, or other public undertaking, or is the site of an ancient monument or other object of archeological interest. If the noble Lord studies the Act more meticulously, I think he will find that it covers his case. At any rate, we can consider it before Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

First Schedule:

  1. FIRST SCHEDULE. 258 words