§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a Second time. Perhaps I may preface my remarks by craving your indulgence in dealing with this measure, particularly that part of it which is concerned with landholders' tenure; because that is a form of tenure which is peculiar to Scotland and the code of Acts dealing with it makes it peculiarly complex for a Southerner like myself to understand. Many of your Lordships have knowledge and experience of the subject to which I certainly cannot pretend, and the Government would like to have the 997 benefit of your views on the various clauses of the Bill, while hoping of course that your views will coincide in the main with the principles on which the Bill is based.
It is rather difficult to present this Bill to your Lordships on Second Reading because it is really a series of amendments to a great many Acts, and there is no general principle running through the Bill to expound. There are a number of clauses, nearly forty, in the Bill, many of them without any very close relation to each other. It is, therefore, really a Bill which will receive more thorough discussion in Committee than at its present stage. For that reason I do not propose to give your Lordships a detailed account of each of the various clauses. Most of them, I think, are self explanatory, and if the intention of any of them is not clear to your Lordships I will certainly do my best to clear up any difficulty which is stated in the course of the debate either now or at a later stage, as may be the more appropriate.
Part I of the Bill which deals with the landholder's tenure, provides for an important modification of the law in regard to a landholder's rights to compensation for improvements, which will enable the Department of Agriculture to continue loans to an incoming tenant in cases of change of tenancy. It amends the existing statutory procedure in regard to vacant holdings with a view to facilitating re-letting, and it makes other useful amendments in regard to procedure for the enlargement of holdings, the law of bequest and assignation, the simplification of machinery for removing unsatisfactory tenants, and power to the Department to make loans for the purposes of stock.
With regard to Part II, in the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act of 1908 a long step forward was taken in adjusting the relationship of landlord and tenant and in securing for the tenant certain rights, amongst others, to compensation for improvements made by himself on the holding to which in equity he was obviously entitled. Experience of the working of that Act has shown that certain modifications are desirable. The last comprehensive Act on the subject was that passed in 1923, which embodies the law as it stands at present. It has been claimed by organisations represent- 998 ing tenant farmers, and I think it is fairly generally admitted in some measure by the landowning interests, that the Act of 1923 does not in all respects deal adequately with some of the more important questions that may come up as between landlord and tenant.
The purpose of Part II of the Bill is to improve the law in certain particulars. But it does not profess to deal in any drastic or far-reaching way with the whole system of Scottish land tenure. The objects chiefly in view are to remove certain limitations on what are reasonable claims to compensation, to improve in some respects the machinery of arbitration, and to meet new developments; as, for example, the need for providing for compensation in respect of electrical installations on farms. On these and on other matters I may fairly claim that Part II of this Bill goes a good way to satisfy the legitimate wishes at any rate of the tenant without any undue trespass on the existing rights and privileges of the landlord. If this claim be a just one, as I maintain it is, the proposed amendments of the Agricultural Holdings Acts cannot but aid materially in improving the conditions tinder which our agriculture is carried on and thus in benefiting not only the various agricultural classes but many other sections of the community.
In conclusion, I would only say that all the provisions of the measure have been considered with great care and in considerable detail in another place. His Majesty's Government are glad to acknowledge the helpful and constructive criticism that was offered by all Parties. The Bill was read a second and a third time in another place without a Division. At the Third Reading the spokesmen of the two Parties in Opposition said respectively:The Bill embodies many useful amendments to the law and we do not propose to divide against it,andI support the Third Reading. The Bill does not go so far as some would like, but it remedies a great many grievances and it deserves support.I beg, therefore, to move that this Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Earl De La Warr.)999
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, the noble Earl need not worry himself over principle in the Scottish small landholders' legislation, because it is hard to find any trace of it; but in response to his invitation it may be well to supplement the statement which he has just made. In the absence of Lord Lovat there is little first-hand knowledge in your Lordships' House or in another place of a land policy which, originating in obscure districts of a limited Highland area half a century ago, has been spread like a upas tree by uninformed politicians all over the land. As an outcome the State breaks contracts, takes land, fixes rents and landlords' liabilities, by its agents, in all districts of Scotland and under all circumstances.
There are only two or three clauses in this Part of the Bill which are of much importance, but it adds to the meshwork of legislation which should by now have been codified, and one of the recommendations I would make to His Majesty's Government is that as soon as possible it should be codified. Small holdings are dealt with all over Scotland under an elaborate and costly State machinery resembling that of the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, but going far beyond it in many respects. These operations are conducted at great loss to the Exchequer. The original Crofters' Act of 1885, which also went far beyond the more just recommendations of Lord Napier's admirable Report on the crofter system, was confined to Highland counties and townships, where the tenants made such buildings and fixtures as were then appropriate to their holdings. Some such legislation was equitable and much needed, because no landowner could execute such works on masses of crofts rented at £2 or £3 a year. Therefore the tenant needed security for what he had to erect himself.
Even in this restricted area, and under the original Act, there have been extraordinary results. Notorious cases, in which the owner, with no say in the tenants' expenditure, and often none in the selections of tenants, finds himself called upon to pay, upon the nail, hundreds of pounds by way of compensation for any building or equipment the tenant has seen fit to erect whenever the crofter takes a notion to quit his £2 or £3 a year croft. The latter is then left on 1000 the owner's hands, and he is forced to pay rates on it, even though he can find no tenant. A good deal more might be said of the plunder of the unfortunate owner under this Act. It is indeed beyond question that if the Act were to be made a just one it is the so-called owner, not the tenant, who is of the two far more entitled to protection. It is this Act of 1885, embellished by several of subsequent date, which has been extended to the whole of Scotland.
Great agricultural farms, with equipment worth many thousands of pounds, are taken by the Board of Agriculture, on terms fixed by a Land Court, which I may describe as a quasi-judicial body presided over by a person who, pace Lord Hailsham, I may describe as a "duly qualified person," and sometimes under the guidance of what may be described as a person of the M.P. species. The owner's equipment is commonly scrapped, and fresh tenants, not always competent, are forced upon him. I know of a case in which three out of five of the Board's candidates had to be withdrawn because of the very unfavourable records the owner was able to prove against them. The owner, therefore, becomes a sort of agent for the Board in this compulsory partnership, to which heavy liabilities are attached as part and parcel of this iniquitous system of forced co-partnery. If the State elects to create small holdings, it should do so on its own land and not at the cost of an individual.
Your Lordships will also bear in mind the injustice borne by all ordinary ratepayers through the non-liability to rates of the buildings and equipment of small holdings, with the result that this deficiency has to be made good by the ordinary ratepayers who, in the villages especially, and in the small houses, are taxed up to their chimney pots. In consequence the crofter or small holder actually profits by the rates when the owner has to hand on most of his rating relief, on the bare land, to him. That legacy from the original Crofters' Act, devised to meet opposite conditions of agriculture, has now upset the whole rating system of Scotland. The Nairne Inquiry into small holdings and the Dunedin Commission on local taxation alike recommended that small holders should be rated like anyone else. That reform is far more urgent than anything 1001 contained in this Bill, but it has been ignored by the past and present Governments.
I will only deal with Part I of the Bill, since other noble Lords are so well qualified to deal with Part II, of which I will only observe that it should have been introduced as a separate measure and along with any alterations required in England, for the nearer the agricultural law of the two countries is assimilated the better. Some clauses of Part I are drawn from the Nairne Report and will be quite useful. On the other hand, there are two or three clauses that should be taken out, and some minor Amendments inserted. These clauses are examples of the tendency in this kind of legislation to spy out as with a microscope any possible hard cases against the landlord that can be urged on behalf of a tenant, and to turn a blind eye to any hardship or loss that may be inflicted on the landlord. Yet I am confident that the tenants in nine cases out of ten are more contented and not less prosperous than those controlled by the Board of Agriculture.
Clause 8 of the Bill is one example. Right of resumption by an owner for his own occupation often is his last resource to protect the amenity of his home from an adjacent and undesirable neighbour. Such cases are very rare indeed. I think there have only been eighteen that can be enumerated within the past three years. The tenant is amply protected and it is only in a fraction of such few cases that any possible hardship can be suffered by the tenant. The fact is that, to a handful of politicians in another place, no landlord should be allowed to sit by his own hearthstone and the effect of this clause is to tend to make country homes and estates not only uninhabitable but unsaleable.
What I have just said on Clause 8 applies equally to Clause 14. It turns the statutory small tenancy into that of a small land holder. I have only to quote the Minister in charge of the Bill in another place on the Committee stage of Clause 14, which should certainly be rejected. He said:I have no letter of recommendation from a solitary statutory small tenant in Scotland. I have no evidence and I know no hon. Member has any evidence that they desire this change. Last year when the previous Bill was going through, we did 1002 have letters, about fifteen or so, from statutory small tenants who took the trouble to write and say they did not want this change which would not be beneficial and which they did not desire.I have nothing to add to that. That is sufficient reason for the excision of this clause. Yet the clause was put in on Report, although the statutory small tenant is protected by a valued rent, if he should elect to go into Court, which he does not always do, and although the landlord has spent from fifteen to twenty years purchase of the rent in buildings and equipment and has to maintain them as he would on any large farm. It is unnecessary indeed to say more on Clause 14 as anything more can be said in Committee, if necessary, as also in the case of certain other minor Amendments.
There is one rather important point which I do not think is quite clear in the Bill, and that is with respect to the requirements of the Board of Health in reference to buildings not erected by the landlord but by the Board of Agriculture or the tenant. It would be obviously unfair in that case that the landlord should incur any liability for the requirements of the health Department. I knew a case at one time where there was an order for a water supply to be put into a group of five pendicles. They were rented at £18 a year and the cost of introducing the water would be £400. Two of the pendicles were sold and nothing more was heard about bringing in the water. The Schedules of the Bill have to be examined so that the right of the owner to decide the purposes to which the farms shall be adapted shall be made clear. Otherwise there might be constant changes in the equipment to meet the requirements of any of the three or four systems of agriculture that are practised, each of which might be favoured by successive tenants, which is not possible because the cost would be ruinous.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill because the noble Earl who introduced it introduced it in a very reasonable way, and because I realise that there is an intention underlying the Bill on the part of His Majesty's Government to try to be fair in the matter. Whether the Bill in itself is fair to both parties I am doubtful. But I hope that when it gets to Committee the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading will 1003 adhere to what he said and try to meet us—I will not say half way, that is too much to expect, but perhaps twenty-five per cent. There are some points in it that are necessary for the correction of defects in similar legislation in the past. This is by no means intended to convey that there are not, in my humble opinion, many clauses which will have to be very radically altered before the Bill can be agreed upon in this House.
There are two great basic industries in this country and both of them, thanks to perpetual political interference, are in a state of chaos. I mean agriculture and coal mining. I am convinced that subject to seeing that there was no exploitation of labour in both cases, and subject to the necessary rules regarding safety in the one and health in the other, and subject, of course, to safeguarding their markets, had it not been for Government interference both those industries would have been in a very much better condition to-day. I am not talking particularly of one Party or another. Ever since I took an interest in politics, that is to say since I was first returned to another place in 1911, I have had to deal with Bill after Bill for small landholders and attempts, for political purposes, to introduce the crofter system, which has not proved a success in the Highlands, into the Lowlands of Scotland where no one but the politicians want it. If they had been left alone I am quite convinced that the three people concerned—the proprietors, the farmers and the labourers—would have come to a better solution of their problems by now than the Government is to-day trying to effect.
There is far more friendship, due to common interest, between the three parties than people who live in the towns are led to understand. But professional agitators on the one hand have led to what I may call professional opposition on the other. In the old days when I was a boy matters would have been settled at what to-day is called a roundtable conference, but which we used to call "over a glass of whisky," when the three parties went away morally and physically satisfied. At all events, they said they were. But nowadays on large estates one has to keep experts for the interpretation of Bills for the safeguarding of the landlord, and legal advice has 1004 to be taken almost daily. On the other side we now have professional secretaries of societies advising farmers as to so-called and fancied rights, for, of course, professional secretaries have to justify their existence and sometimes to qualify for a seat in another place. In every town in Scotland to-day there is what is termed a farmers' lawyer who is an expert in finding out where trouble lies. That is about all we have got out of this political interference. The land to-day is producing, not more but rather less. I am not suggesting that that is altogether the result of political interference, but at the same time it is one of the effects. In any case, having had so much of this deleterious medicine, it seems necessary that we should have some more in order to get rid of the evil effects of the last dose.
I would like to say that I agree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken that it would be of great benefit to everybody if the law on the subject could be codified and simplified so that all could understand it. The present Bill is one of those abominations which deal to a very great extent in cross references with two Acts on two perfectly different subjects which, because they are two perfectly different subjects, one has to approach from an entirely different point of view. That makes it very difficult to discuss in this House. It is absolutely impossible to talk in the same breath about the crofter in the Isle of Skye and about the great farms with high cultivation in the Lowlands. The reason why we have got the whole thing in one Bill and not in two Bills seems apparent. If we look at Clause 14 of the Bill, we see that the political protagonists of what are known as "the flochter spade" in the North are trying to introduce that weapon and its results in the great agricultural areas of the South, which have made the methods of Scottish farming an example to the whole world.
I am far from saying that there are not several good points in the Bill; I am far from saying that there is not more common sense in some of the suggestions of the present Labour Government than some of their predecessors' proposals. I am glad to see one of another Party here and hope that he will give us his views. There are certainly many points about it which I advise your Lordships to examine when, the 1005 Bill goes to Committee. Although it is the present Government that are speaking, there are certain parts of the Bill which seem to re-echo their master's voice. I have not seen any part of the Bill which comes under the latter category which can be acceptable to your Lordships' House or to the agriculturists of Scotland in general. In order to see the ideas underlying the Bill and how it is not in the least far the benefit of small holders but is really for political purposes, we have only to look at one of the Liberal Amendments in another place, when it was suggested that this Bill should be extended to holdings of £100 or 100 acres. If that were passed—and I must say it was opposed by the Labour Party—it might have meant that small holdings in the Highlands might have extended to a holding with an outrun of something like 4,000 acres and I have yet to learn that a holding of that size is a small holding.
The points to which I specially object include Clause 8, in which resumption is refused to the landlord of a small holding, although it may be the only bit of land he has got in the world, and although he is prepared to treat it as an agricultural subject and with probably higher cultivation than it attains when in the hands of the small holder, and with an increased wages bill. I would strongly recommend your Lordships to resist such an obvious injustice. The case is not likely to occur often, but there it is. The second clause, to which I have a main objection, is Clause 14. I need say no more than that it means extending the crofter system to the South of Scotland. There are lots of ways of protecting the small tenant. Most of them are in practice already, but, if more are required, this is not the way to do it. And, if it were passed, it would mean a hopeless agricultural wrangle just at the time when things are worst and when we are trying to pull together so that all may get out of the Slough of Despond in which agriculture is plunged in the whole of Scotland. The proprietors do not want it. The farmers do not want it. The ploughmen do not want it. So why should the politicians want it? Although there are many such points in which I hope we may be able to help the Government to arrive at an agreed Bill, I would still recommend your Lordships to examine 1006 very closely the Schedules to the Bill. Schedules are always apparently innocent things at the end of the Bill, but, on being examined, are found, like the proverbial wasp, to have the sting in the tail.
The Bill is a, bundle of Bills. Much of it is by reference to other Acts, and I have not had time to go through the small library that it is necessary to examine. But it does occur to me that in the 1923 Act we had just the same argument on the same subject as we have today. Those who were opposing the Bill then used probably just the same arguments as those who are opposing it today. But, generally speaking, we came to an agreement, and we hoped that this would be the last of it. History repeats itself, and we find ourselves with former understandings forgotten, previous agreements invalid—so there is no end to it.
We find in the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1923, that the First Schedule, which contains the improvements to which the consent of the landlord is required, consist of eighteen points. These points may be roughly summed up as expenditure of a capital nature by the landlord. Part II—improvements regarding which notice to the landlord is required: in other words the opportunity for the landlord to object—contains only one point. We find in Part III, where no consent of or notice to the landlord is required, which concerns only upkeep and maintenance, ten clauses. To-day, in the new Bill, we find that Part I, that part to which the consent of the landlord is required, is reduced from eighteen, to eight points, most of which hardly affect the small holder, while Part II, which consists of improvements which the tenant can do after giving notice to the landlord, has increased from one to nine. When you realise that this covers everything from drainage and the formation of silos to the making of bridges, to the improvement of watercourses, ponds or wells, the application of water power, the removal of fences,, the reclaiming of waste land, the making of embankments and sluices against floods, the provision of sheep dipping accommodation for temporary pasture, and the provision of electrical equipment, which almost moved the noble Lord who moved the Bill to rhetoric, all of which the landlord will 1007 have to pay for, even if any of these things prove a failure and the tenant leaves, it does seem to me that there is some excuse for the most careful examination of the Bill, to say the least of it.
Part III, "improvements in respect of which consent of or notice to the landlord is not required," includes the eradication of bracken, whins or gorse growing on the farm at the commencement of the tenancy. In so far as the bracken, etc., complained of is not serious in extent, the farmer should carry out such eradication as a natural part of good husbandry. So far as bracken, whips, etc., are a serious trouble to the farmer, then in that case the rent is obviously based on the fact, and, if he removes them, he gets the benefit himself, and that benefit should fall to be calculated when assessing the cost of eradication. I cannot imagine a farmer doing such work at the end of his tenancy and so getting no benefit from it. In other words, it would probably be much wiser to leave the question alone for agreement between the landlord and tenant. I do not for one moment venture to suggest that the eradication of bracken is not a good thing, but I wonder what the small holder or any other farmer would think if a clause were put in to the effect that farmers or small holders should pay compensation to the landlord for the increase of bracken on their farms during their tenancy. If farmers were prepared to accept such a clause, in the interests of agriculture generally, no one would be more glad to move it than myself, but I do not think that is likely to happen.
I have said what I have said because the industry of agriculture is vital to the welfare of Scotland, and we cannot go lightly into measures which may upset it. It would not be honest not to point out what we consider, rightly or wrongly, to be the defects of the Bill. Equally so it would be wrong to oppose in its entirety a Bill which we must look upon as an honest effort, and no doubt contains some points which on examination in Committee may be found to be for the general good.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
My Lords, the noble Earl opposite, in introducing this measure, said he was not going to make a long Second Reading 1008 speech as the matter was largely one for Committee stage, in which I think he is correct. Also I think he was very wise, because there is such a great amount of reference in the first Part, at any rate, that it is a somewhat difficult Bill to explain in detail. As my two noble friends have said, if only we could get the Government to codify these Acts dealing with small holdings it would be of great advantage to everybody concerned. One point on the Bill which I would like to put to the noble Earl is that this Bill really consists of two distinct measures, and I cannot help thinking that the Government might seriously consider whether it would not be of advantage to divide them, so as to have one measure for small holdings and the other for agricultural holdings. I can quite see that in another place it was desirable, for convenience, to have one Bill, but as it has now reached this House I think it is a matter on which the noble Earl might consult with his advisers, and see whether there would not be considerable advantage for anyone who in the future has to refer to them to have two separate Bills.
This Bill is very different from what it was when it was introduced. Since its introduction in the House of Commons no fewer than six new clauses have been put into Part I, which now consists of 24 Clauses. Six clauses, or one-fourth of the whole, are new, and they were all of them, I think, put in on the Report stage. In Part II, which only consists now of fourteen clauses, no fewer than six whole clauses and three-fourths of another clause are new. In other words, in the agricultural holdings part, leaving out the Schedule, half of it consists of new clauses. I think that as there have been such very large alterations in another place the Government cannot complain at all if we move a considerable number of Amendments, and I hope they will give them favourable consideration and really consider them on their merits. I might also put before your Lordships that, as regards these new clauses and Amendments, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in another place, during the Committee stage, which lasted no less than fourteen days, resisted nearly all these Amendments. These new clauses were almost entirely put in on the Report stage, and after a 1009 comparatively short discussion on two Friday afternoons, on one of which there was other business. It was, therefore, done after little more than one afternoon's debate. I think that shows that we have considerable claims to have our Amendments considered, and I hope accepted, because, these new clauses having been put in in that way, showing that the form of the Bill was not fixed in the mind of the Government when they introduced it, it is only reasonable to think that sonic of these changes require to be modified.
On Part I of the Bill I would only like to say one word, and that is on the clause enabling any statutory small tenant to become a landholder. In the South, in my part of the country, there are, of course, a considerable number of statutory small tenants. At present these are all equipped by the landowner and in most cases, I believe, satisfactorily equipped, and if they are turned into landholders the landowner would, of course, not spend any more money on them. Another matter is that the equipment of these holdings is provided by the landowner. As soon as he was turned into a small landholder there would be no interest in him to keep them up, and therefore probably he would let them go down. It would be a serious matter indeed not only for the landholder but for any man who succeeds in the tenancy of the holding. Therefore, I cannot see that there is any advantage in this proposal, and I believe there is no demand for it at all. The Land Commission said:We are of opinion that the experiment initiated by the Act of 1911 to extend crofting tenure to the Lowlands has not been a success.The Government, I am glad to see, in other clauses of the Bill have taken advice to a considerable extent from the Land Commission, and as they were not particularly keen on this clause in the House of Commons I hope that in this House they will accept an Amendment to exclude it.
Now I come to the agricultural part, and although in all these Bills compensation of the sitting tenant is always considered, as far as I can see three people are not considered. The first is the landowner, the second is any future tenant, and the third, and very important, is the farm servant. I have on my own estate 1010 many men who have risen from the position of ploughman or shepherd, or who are the sons of such, and from many of these causes, such for instance as this very large compensation in the last Agricultural Bill, it is almost impossible at the present time for any landowner to get rid of a man who is farming his land badly and allowing the land to get dirtier and worse, month by month and almost day by day. The people who resent this more than anybody else are the farm servants, whose grievance it is that a great many farmers are not putting enough into their land and their labour is wasted. In both this Bill and the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill the existence of these farm servants seems to be almost ignored.
There is another thing too. When, some years ago, they had an agricultural conference in Edinburgh, which was attended by landowners, tenant farmers, farm servants, and small holders, the one thing they were very strong against was having any increase of security of tenure because, they said, they saw by their own experience that it simply led in many cases to bad farming and lazy farming. I remember one man, a farm servant who was a very strong Liberal, who related the case of a farmer who had deteriorated his land by some pounds per acre, and yet in the end he got money for so-called unexhausted improvements. You must consider the farm servants in all these matters; their interests and those of indifferent farmers are absolutely opposite.
There are two clauses to which I must allude, Clauses 27 and 28. Clause 28 relates to the case of a man who has deteriorated his land and has to pay compensation on leaving, but provides that there must be a record of the condition of the holding made. That practically means that any bad fanner who has deteriorated his land, probably by not having enough labour, is practically immune from ever being brought to book. It is difficult enough now to claim for the deterioration of land, and there is one Amendment which I hope to move in Committee and which I hope your Lordships will accept. Another provision, which is certainly against the interests of farm servants, is to be found in Clause 27. It is distinctly against the interests of farm servants, because it means that 1011 more land will go out of cultivation. I think it wants very careful scrutiny in Committee. After all, if no compensation is paid for temporary pasture it would not be such a great hardship. The only time it would occur would be when a man was leaving his farm, either voluntarily or by expulsion by the owner. But in the latter case he would get such very large compensation for quitting his farm that this provision could very well be done without. Another point is as to how such compensation would be valued. That is a point which wants very careful consideration in Committee, and chiefly from the point of view of the farm servants, and especially the ploughmen.
Many years ago Great Britain and, considering the poor class of land, especially Scotland, were an example to the world in agriculture. To what was that owing? At the present time everyone condemns the landlord and tenant system in this country, but that system brought this country miles ahead of any other country in the world, and it remained so until the Legislature began to interfere. I do not think there is any doubt that with each Act of Parliament passed in the supposed interests of improving the condition of farming, farming on the whole has gone back. No legislation is required really for a good farmer. I know a very large number of my tenants, and the number of real disputes we have is very few indeed. But, this legislation is undoubtedly generally in the interests of the bad farmer, and not the good farmer.
There is a great deal said about tenants having their rent raised because of their improvements, and perhaps I might tell you a story that was told by a minister of the Church of Scotland, who is a very able man. He was talking about a farmer whom I knew quite well, and said: "When I was young and did not know, I went to this farmer and said to him, 'I hear you have to pay an increased rent at the end of your lease.' The farmer said: 'Yes.'" The minister said: "Well, I think that is very unfair. You are having your rent raised on your improvements." This was the farmer's answer: "You are a young man, and you do not know what you are talking about. The landlord laid out so much money in improving his farm and draining it at the beginning of my lease that he cannot have got any return, or more than 1012 a very small one, on that money during my tenancy. Without that expenditure I could never have done what I have done, and it is only reasonable and fair that he should get some return for the money he spent, I suppose twenty years ago." I think you will find a great many cases of that kind.
What is really wanted in agriculture, as with other businesses, is to have a flow of capital into it. At the present time there is very little, if any, inducement for people to put capital into land. Formerly, a man took an extraordinary interest in his land. If you frighten people from placing capital into land, who suffers by it? The farmer to a large extent, but still more the farm labourer. I say without fear of contradiction that I do not suppose there is a single arable farm, either in England or Scotland, that pays in rent—leaving out the land altogether—as much as 3 per cent. on capital expenditure. In many cases it is very much less. At the present time, therefore, the farmer is getting his buildings,. drains, roads and so forth—capital invested in the farm—at the very low rate of interest of, say, 2, or possibly (though I doubt if there is a single case) 3 per cent. There is not another person in the whole community who is so well off in that respect. Before you interfere and make it almost impossible for any owner to put money into the improvement of his land with any sense of security, you should think very hard.
Under the Schedules of this Bill tenants are enabled to put up certain buildings themselves. Whether they would do so or not I do not know. As many landowners are now very much impoverished owing to penal taxation, it may be desirable for your Lordships to look very carefully and see that safeguards are made so that no farmer can ruin a farm by putting up works and then claiming compensation for them. I hope that your Lordships will follow that course. There are certain people, I do not say they are many, who may take a farm and do foolish things and farm it not very successfully. I think that the landowner ought to be protected against such things as well in his own interest as in the interest of future tenants. In considering this Bill in Committee I hope that your Lordships will not only consider the position of the sitting tenant, who, I 1013 think, is very well protected at present, but of the landowner if you wish him to lay out more money in improving his land. I hope you will consider in particular the tenant of the future under whom we hope that our agriculture will revive. Still more I hope you will consider the farm servant.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, the Bill has been the subject of severe but not unduly severe criticism both by the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, and the noble Viscount, Lord Novar, and has been blessed more or less by the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, although he did point out how much land was subjected to penal taxation. May I in that connection make one point which is not strictly germane to the Bill? I am called upon under the system of grants for rural housing to spend £700 or £800 in providing water supplies for the cottages on one farm only. The walls of those cottages might want repairing, but they are not insanitary. I asked the farmer himself whether the people living in them were unhealthy and he said "No." That is a case in which the landlord has to spend a large capital sum on one farm only from which he will get no increment at all; in fact, the expenditure is really a liability because water pipes sometimes burst and the landlord has in this case to repair them. Neither the farmer nor the cottager will do that.
I would like to ask the noble Earl what has been the result of the small holdings which have been created? It seems to me that the Government ought to publish a clear statement of the cost of establishing small holdings and the amount of the returns from them. I know that an annual return is published by the Ministry of Agriculture but that only gives jejune figures from which one cannot learn anything. In moving the Second Reading of this Bill in another place the Secretary of State for Scotland claimed that the area of land in Scotland which had been acquired by the Government and on which small holdings were established amounted to 800,000 acres. Surely, then, the public who, after all, occupy the position of landlord in regard to those holdings, ought to know what return they are getting from them. I believe that they are a dead loss.
1014 In most cases I fancy these holdings are not worked by those for whom they are supposed to have been made. Some years ago I visited a farm which belonged at one time to the estate of the late Lord Linlithgow, and I found that the small holdings there had been sublet for the most part to Edinburgh weekenders. Certainly, the land was not farmed half so well and I do not think it produced half as much as it had done under the previous owner. In another case the examination of a farm showed that the holders of the small holdings were a large cartage contractor in Musselburgh, the owner of a large fruit and potato business in Edinburgh, and a motor hirer and engineer in Musselburgh. Other numbers had been purchased and sub-let. I think, therefore, it will be found in most cases that those who are farming the holdings which have been created are not the original occupiers. Having regard to those facts it would be interesting to ascertain clearly what the nation is committed to as the result of the establishment of small holdings.
The Secretary of State for Scotland said on the Second Reading of this Bill in another place that only 5.6 had been failures. That depends, of course, on what is meant by failure. If the holdings were not occupied by the original holders I should regard that as more or less a failure myself; in other words, they have not carried out the purpose for which they were set up. I mentioned the other day to your Lordships my own experience of the buildings on a farm of over 160 acres being cut in two for the purpose of small holdings. I do not believe that there are more people working on those holdings to-day than worked on the farm when it was occupied by a single tenant. I had in that instance to meet a Government representative and I found that one of those concerned had already failed as a poultry farmer.
I am not asking that the information should be given in every instance, as I understand that the amount of property held by the Government now is enormous, but some instances ought to be taken as showing the result of establishing small holdings. Not only under this Bill but under another which is before Parliament the nation may be committed to an ex- 1015 penditure of several hundred thousand pounds. Therefore, I think it is very desirable that the noble Earl should make representations to the Government that the profit and loss should be carefully ascertained, as would be done by an ordinary landowner, of the working of the small holdings.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, a great number of most important points have been raised to-day and I am sure your Lordships will not expect me to try to reply to them at the moment. I will certainly have them considered before the Committee stage, for which your Lordships will doubtless be putting down Amendments. I would only point out to your Lordships that this Bill does not in any way raise the general question as to whether or not there shall be small holdings or whether or not there shall be legislation as between landlord and tenant. That has already been dealt with by Parliament as a matter of principle. This Bill is solely and simply an attempt to deal with certain matters which have 1016 not been found to work entirely smoothly in the past, and to make minor adjustments in the existing law the principle of which has already been settled by Parliament.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.