HL Deb 16 March 1937 vol 104 cc675-716

LORD BROCKET had the following Notice on the Paper:—To draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to the necessity for a definite policy to prevent the further decay of the countryside, and which would not only have as its object the preservation of amenities and buildings of architectural or historic interest, but also the maintenance of employment in the villages and the encouragement of increased production of food and timber as part of the home defence programme; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in another place where I occasionally had the honour of speaking it was the custom to crave the indulgence of one's fellow members so that one could be free from interruption during one's first speech in that place. I do not know whether such a custom is usual here, but I am certain that it is quite unnecessary. I have had my attention drawn to the extreme width of my Motion this afternoon. I have framed it so wide on purpose, because I think that the subjects which are included in my Motion are all very largely bound up with the subject of land tenure in this country. I was sent a cutting the other day about the width of my Motion, an extract from the Cork Examiner, which says that: If Mr. Baldwin and his merry men could carry out the proposals embodied here the Tories would be in office for a generation to come by means of the entirely united agricultural vote; but it is much easier to frame a good resolution than to effect a peaceful revolution. I think that is really rather amusing, but I do not intend to bring in Party politics at all this afternoon, because I think that the preservation of the countryside and the encouragement of the production of additional foodstuffs in this country and more tree planting is not a matter in which one Party alone has particular interest.

Before I really enter into the subject more fully, I would like to say that there have in the past been three systems of land policy, including the present one. The Liberal Party, in 1910 and at ether times, put forward the view that land should be taxed in order to produce revenue, and I think in 1910 the view of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer was that landowners were not a necessity to the countryside—which I think they are to-day. The Socialist Party has usually advocated the nationalisation of land, and I am very sorry that none of the members of His Majesty's Opposition are here this afternoon, because I see from The Times of March 8 that they put forward these views: National planning requires that the use of the land shall be controlled in the public interests, and in view of the limited area of this country, should be put to the best use, whether for agriculture, industry or other purpose. I think the last part of the sentence represents a view with which we shall all agree.

The extract goes on: Houses, schools, and other necessary buildings, playing fields, other spaces and national parks must be provided. The beauty of the countryside must be preserved. I entirely agree with that. A short Bill will be passed enabling the Government and other public authorities to at quire such land as they need for any purpose without delay and at reasonable cost. I do not know whether that is the total policy of nationalisation, but that seems scarcely necessary, as public authorities can already acquire land at reasonable cost for public purposes. The small householder and owner-occupier, however, will be left in undisputed possession of his home. Whether that is put in in order not to frighten the small householder and owner-occupier with the bogy of nationalisation I do not know, but we are all in agreement with that. It goes on: Tenants will be protected by continuing and extending the Rent Restriction Act. Well, that is of course being continued at present. I think therefore that all Parties are in favour of doing what they can to preserve the countryside, to help to create employment in the countryside, and to assist agricultural production. But of course they may not all be united on the views which I shall put forward to-day.

To get to the actual words of the Motion, which refers to "the necessity for a definite policy to prevent the further decay of the countryside," I feel that I am speaking here in a meeting of friends who share my views, because as one drives about the country it is quite obvious that all over the place estates are being broken up, timber is being cut clown, servants on estates—gardeners, keepers and all other types of servants—are being dismissed; while in the villages, when the big house is shut, life is not so attractive as it was when the owner of that house was living there, and the unemployed ex-gardeners, ex-gamekeepers, and so on in the villages flock to the towns where they join the unemployment queues waiting for work. As regards the beauties of the countryside, I am sure other noble Lords will speak of that, but it is quite impossible for the National Trust to own the whole of England or the whole of the beautiful spots in England, and I believe it is far cheaper that private owners should own the beautiful parts of England and preserve them, than that the National Trust even should be asked, or compelled, to try to extend its activities in that way.

Take the case of the South Downs which, I am glad to say, look as if they will be preserved under a town-planning scheme agreed to by the great majority of the owners of the land. I believe it is true that at the Brighton end of the South Downs, on the deaths of two Lord Chichesters, a certain amount of the Downs had to be sold owing to the demand for Death Duties. One noble Lord on the Front Bench is particularly interested in that end of the South Downs, and I believe town-planning schemes have been very largely put into operation in order to get agreement. I believe also that public appeals have been made, and certain local authorities have had to purchase parts of the South Downs, in order to prevent ugly developments of bungalows and other monstrosities. If the Death Duties on that estate had not been so great, it is quite possible that the expense to which the ratepayers of parts of Sussex have been put would have been spared, and that very lovely part of the South Downs would still have remained in private ownership. That is just one instance of the effect of Death Duties on country estates.

I am fully aware that we in this House are the only class of persons in the country who are taxed without having direct responsibility for the taxation, and I know it is not very much good talking in this House about such a subject as Death Duties. But I cannot help feeling that when one begins to discuss the preservation of the countryside it is absolutely necessary to get to the root cause and to ask why the countryside should have to be preserved, either by public subscriptions or by public bodies. We have in this country some very excellent institutions, such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, which does its best to educate the inhabitants of this country in the preservation of the countryside. The National Trust is extending its activities, and under the Bill which is at present before Parliament it is quite possible that it may extend its activities as to the holding of land, and hold that land safe, we hope, for the future. In 1926 the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was passed. That is an Act for reconditioning cottages, partly at public expense. I think it is a very good Act, but it has not been employed, in England at any rate, as much as it should have been. I believe the provision is that an owner may be granted facilities for reconditioning his cottages. In some counties either the county council or the authority which controls that Act particularly bars owners who, they think, could afford to recondition their cottages without the assistance of that Act. That usually means that the cottages are not reconditioned. In time the local authority comes along and, with its surveyor, condemns those cottages. Therefore you get many lovely cottages all over the country being pulled down, and various new buildings erected for the old occupiers of those cottages to live in at higher rents, and probably with less warmth than in their old cottages.

I feel that I cannot leave the preservation side of my Motion without mentioning the preservation of large country houses. I believe that members of all Parties are beginning to realise that the large country house in this country is a particularly English institution. It is an institution which is not quite the same in other countries of the world, and it is really worth while preserving. As I said before, the National Trust cannot preserve every large country house or every small one in this country and, if they do, they usually have to preserve those houses where the owners are not living and which may be empty, or remain empty, as in the case of Montacute, for a good many years. It seems to me impossible at this time to put the clock back, but there are in this country a large number of beautiful houses—a far larger number than any of us realise—which are still in the hands of their old owners and which are still put to their proper use as places where families can dwell, and not only live and enjoy the amenities, but give employment to many people in and about those houses. Therefore, before it is too late, I would ask the noble Earl who represents the Office of Works to consider very fully if he could prevent too many of those houses becoming ruins and coming under his care a little later on.

Regarding employment in the villages, which I have mentioned, it is most necessary, from the side of the towns, that villages should be kept as attractive as possible to the people who live in them and that employment should be provided all over the country and not only in London. There is a very great tendency at the present time for all people who want work to flock to London if they live in England, and to flock to Glasgow if they live in Scotland. Last week, in the other place, there was a Bill to put a factory in the Highlands, and a good many members of that House put forward the view that that industry should be put in a depressed area. I quite agree. There are many areas in this country which are far more depressed than people realise, and it is no good all these unfortunate people who are out of employment going to the towns.

Now I want to talk upon the other side of my Motion—as I say, I have drawn in wide on purpose—and that is the encouragement of increased production of food and timber as part of the home defence programme. The other day in the House of Commons Mr. Lloyd George made a very spirited attack on the Government in which he advocated a "back to the land" movement. That is singularly appropriate for Mr. Lloyd George, who probably, through his taxation proposals before the War, had more to do with the policy of going away from the land than anyone else. He recalled that it was proposed to spend £1,500,000,000 in five years on arms, and he said of the Government that they "neglect the weakest front if war was declared to-morrow." He pointed out that the utmost that could be spent under this plan of food production was £300,000. He said: £300,000 for the front that nearly broke us in the Great War, and £300,000,000 for the rest. They have no sense of proportion. They have no knowledge of the facts. They have no sense of the importance and the responsibility of this huge problem.

I almost always disagree with Mr. Lloyd George, except in the first part of his remarks. I entirely disagree with the statement that the Government in this matter have no sense of proportion or no knowledge of the facts. I consider they have every sense of proportion in this case, but it is of course not so very easy to deal with the question of increased food production in this country as Mr. Lloyd George seems to think. Mr. Lloyd George and his political associates, through the extension of the system of Death Duties brought in by Sir William Harcourt in 1891, have certainly driven capital out of the land very quickly. During the last few years, since the War, it is a very interesting fact that there have been two rises in the scale of Death Duties—one by Mr. Snowden as he then was, and the other by Mr. Churchill—but in both cases they did not increase the rate of Death Duties on agricultural land. Agricultural land is still assessed for Death Duties at the 1919 rates; but what was so bad for the owners of agricultural estates compared with before 1914 was that, instead of the owner who succeeded to the life interest having to pay the capitalised value of the actuarially calculated expectation of life of himself, he had to pay duties on the whole of the capital every time succession took place. That had a very bad effect indeed on agricultural estates.

There is one other point, and that is that on succeeding to an agricultural estate one has to pay on a valuation which is based on each hereditament if sold separately. To whatever political Party we belong we must admit that that is obviously wrong because it is quite impossible to sell an estate of 5,000 or 10,000 acres in the same way as one would sell one cottage or one small plot of building land. I happened to write a letter, which I was asked to do, to the Daily Telegraph some weeks ago, and I had the temerity to send a copy of that letter to various members of the Cabinet. One member of the Cabinet, who shall be nameless, wrote back and said that he foresaw the inevitable result of Death Duties when Sir William Harcourt's famous Budget was introduced, and "if I remember aright, Mr. Gladstone felt grave misgivings as to the possible outcome of such taxation." It is very interesting to know that Mr. Gladstone felt these misgivings because he was entirely right, but I am quite certain he did not visualise the rates to which Death Duties have now approached. Another part of my letter to that newspaper advocated a reduction or a rearrangement of Death Duties on agricultural land in order to help the owners to continue to let farms to their tenants and help these tenants in the case of bad times. I said that, if some preferential treatment could be given to agricultural land, capital would be attracted back into the agricultural industry, and that this capital was necessary at the present time for helping the agricultural industry to produce more food. Another member of the Cabinet, who is a friend of mine, said: You are right in thinking that more good would be done to agriculture by keeping and attracting to the land refreshing capital than by any deluge of marketing schemes. That is very amusing. But there is a very great deal of truth in what that letter said.

Just one word on the subject of landlord and tenant. It is a fact that in bad times if a farm tenant has a buffer between him and ruin in the shape of the landowner, he can very often get through these bad times, whereas he could not get through them if he owned his land, if he had his capital locked up in the land instead of invested in stock, and had to pay tithes, which have now become less then they were, and had to pay for all the repairs which the landowner had to do in the past. It is a generally admitted fact that a system of occupier-ownership as applied to farms does tie up a large portion of a farmer's capital, which portion should be free for the farmer to farm with. It is rather interesting that about three months ago I bought a farm which my father had sold in 1920, and I do not think I have ever been so complimented by anyone as I was by my father's old tenant and my present tenant. He had been farming since 1920 and paying all the outgoings which a landowner would normally have to pay, and he was absolutely delighted to become a tenant again. I think that is one instance which indicates that all over the country farmers, who bought their farms, generally at rather high prices just after the War, have nearly all very much regretted doing so.

I hope I am not detaining your Lordships too long but this is a subject on which I feel rather strongly, and it is also a subject in regard to which, to use a common expression, I have no axe to grind, having paid all the Death Duties I shall have to pay during my life. I now come to the question of the production of timber. I went to the annual meeting of the Royal English Forestry Society the other day at which Sir Roy Robinson, the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, made a most interesting speech. He stated that the Forestry Commission have 300,000 acres of woodlands, but that private owners have 3,000,000 acres of woodlands—ten times the amount. He also said that he considered that the stock of timber in this country was lower and the position in respect to it was worse than it had ever been, and that in the event of war the stock would be further diminished. For the future he thought it quite possible there might be a shortage of timber perhaps all over the world, but almost certainly in those timbers which we grow particularly well in this country.

It is absolutely impossible for the Forestry Commission to grow all the timber in this country in the same way as it is impossible for the National Trust to own all the houses in this country, and it is rather interesting, if your Lordships will excuse me, to read a letter which I had from the President of the Royal English Forestry Society some little time ago. He says: The present heavy weight of Death Duties squeezes out the latent interest of landowners in their estates generally; they see no family future for their estates. This prevents both the laying out of estates from the amenity point of view and also the growing of timber, because both these are matters which depend entirely on taking a long view. Also it largely accounts for the apparent apathy of landowners and outbalances the assistance to which they are entitled by exisitng concessions. Then the writer talks about the Forestry Commission, but it is certainly a fact that it is impossible for the present Government or, in my submission, even for a future Socialist Government, if that possibility ever eventuates, to act as the landowner either in looking after the amenities of the country or the architecture of the country or the planting of the country. I think it is also impossible for the nation to take the same interest in helping farm tenants through bad times and financing agriculture as the owner of the land, who has an interest in the land, would take.

I feel that very strongly and I would like, as far as I can and as far as it is possible in this House, to hope that the Government will really seriously take the present position into account. The other political Parties have a policy for the land, and I hope that the Government may realise that it is impossible for the present land policy, which has grown up during hundreds of years, to continue and to work satisfactorily if the present drain of roughly £2,000,000 a year is taken out of agricultural land. A policy which works well under certain conditions can very easily be taxed out of existence, and I think that it is worth while, even in this time of large Budgets and increased expenditure on defence, for the Government to take a really longsighted view and see if the capital which is so necessary cannot be retained in the land. If that heritage of beauty which we have appreciated in the past is to be preserved in the future, and if the means of production of food and timber in case of war are also to be helped forward, the Government must adopt a policy that will produce those results. I beg to move.


My Lords, may I compliment the noble Lord upon his first address to this House? He has delivered a most interesting speech, and I am quite sure your Lordships would like to hear him often in future debates. The only matter I rise to deal with is a point which I have been asked to make in connection with the arbitrary taking of land for defence purposes without consulting either the National Trust, or large owners of property, or the county councils who have knowledge of a district and might make very practical suggestions to help the defence forces when they require land for national purposes. I know of one or two cases where land has been taken quite arbitrarily, and amenities which ought to have been preserved have been destroyed. All I desire to ask the Government in connection with this matter is that when they are seeking to take land compulsorily they will do their utmost to preserve the amenities of the properties throughout the country which are so much valued by every citizen.


My Lords, I feel extremely glad that the noble Lord put this Motion on the Paper if only for one thing, the fact that he gave us for the first time the opportunity of hearing him here, and I have no doubt your Lordships will agree with me in the wish that he should do so many times in future. I am bound to say that I have not very often known academic discussions of this nature on behalf of agriculture do very much good, but I see one reason, which the noble Lord has also seen, for hoping that this debate may be different. For the first time since I have been in your Lordships' House I feel that we can be reassured of the powerful alliance of the crowded Benches opposite to us. Previously, when such an occasion as this has arisen, noble Lords opposite were accustomed to shake the hems of their garments and depart saying: "We do not propose to discuss any such thing as this, because nothing really can be done while the countryside suffers from the parasitic influence of capitalism. Some day, when we get into power, which will be quite soon, nationalism will take place and then the whole situation will be altered." They have never said how or why, but they have stated that as a fact.

Only the other day the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, your Lordships will remember, asked noble Lords on this side of the House if we would carefully study the paper setting out the policy of his Party which had just been published. I need scarcely tell your Lordships that I at once proceeded TO follow that advice, and I was amazed to find that the whole policy of land nationalisation had been abandoned. Indeed, if I am right, they went as far as to say that the occupying owner, like myself, would remain in possession of his land and all its amenities for ever, which I thought was a remarkably satisfactory state of affairs. I should like, if they would not consider it presumptuous, to be allowed to congratulate them on their perspicuity, not only political but also economical.

The noble Lord has pointed out that the countryside is going back and those of your Lordships who have knowledge of it over fifty, or even twenty or thirty, years will know that that is the case. Fine old houses are going out, roofs are falling in, farm buildings are getting dilapidated, gates are going away, drainage is not done, and as he has very rightly pointed out the main cause of that is undoubtedly Death Duties. There are many other causes, but that is the main cause. I would remind your Lordships that that was the purpose for which Death Duties were instituted. Some people will regard the success of that measure with jubilation; others, like myself, with great sorrow; possibly some even with a little of both, because although they desired a change of the system they may wish that something had been devised to go into its place.

I wish to say a word or two with regard to the utilisation of our land for defence in the form of food production in time of war. We all know that a vast sum of money is to be spent in preparation for war, that the War Office is working overtime, that the Admiralty and the Air Force are doing the same, and we also know that there is a Committee sitting to deal with the very important work of the storage of food and other essential products. But what we do not know, and what many people want to know, is whether any committee is sitting to go into the question of what use shall be made of the land of these Islands in time of war. I would ask His Majesty's Government to put us out of doubt in that important matter, because that it is important I do not think many people can really question. I venture to assert, and I do not think there will be disagreement when I say, that the country in that matter is far worse off to-day than in 1914.

In the first place we have lost a lot of land in this country. It was stated in another place the other day that the loss of agricultural land during the last seven years has been approximately 60,000 acres a year. If your Lordships will work that out you will find that we have lost in the last seven years 600 square miles of agricultural land. We have also to-day far less arable land than we had at the outbreak of the War. I have seen the figure put at 2,000,000 acres, but I do not know whether that is correct or not. We are also in a worse position in another important factor, and that is in the number of horses. Should another war break out, petrol will be wanted in every direction, and there will not be any too much to spare for all the mechanical traction used on the land now. There will be without doubt a cry for horses everywhere, but we have fewer horses to-day than we had in 1914. What is worse, we have fewer men than in 1914. We have fewer men on the land, fewer men who know how to break land, to sow it and to reap it. I am assured that there are to-day large areas in the Midlands where men do not exist who know how to sow and mow and reap crops. That seems to me a serious matter. Worst of all I think is the fact that in most parts of this country the soil has lost a great deal of its fertility.

If there is a committee sitting, or if the Government are going to set up a committee, there will be some serious problems for the committee to consider. What the committee will have to face is simple to say. I venture to put it that it is to see that the land of this country is in a position to produce the maximum food at the shortest possible notice. This committee which I hope is sitting will have many problems to solve. They will have to decide what sort of food shall be produced, what kind of production will best save our shipping, how much grassland should be broken up and—the most important thing as all agricultural experts with whom I have spoken agree— how to increase to its maximum and then maintain the fertility of the soil. How is this to be done? I do not believe that there is much difference of opinion about it. The heavy lands—what we call the wheat and bean lands in my part of the country—have lost fertility mainly from one cause, lack of drainage. By that I mean drainage not only of arable land but also of grassland, not only pipe drains but also mole drains. I should like to point out to your Lordships that there is extreme doubt as to whether we should be able to do that drainage after war has broken out. In my opinion it must be done before war breaks out. I would further call the attention of your Lordships to the fact that pipe drainage lasts fifty years, and mole draining in suitable land lasts at least twenty years.

On another class of land, the good loams, good light land, where they grow sugar beet and cereals, the main thing to get back and increase the fertility of the land is lime and chalk and clay which used to be put on the land twenty tons to the acre when I was a boy. Is it too much to suggest to His Majesty's Government that they should contribute to the cost of this draining and to the cost of this chalking and liming when all these preparations are taking place? There is one other class of land. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of land which was cultivated when I was a boy, consisting of the lightest land of all. It was cultivated in this way. Green crops were grown, they were fed off by folding sheep and after that arable crops, chiefly of barley but also of rye, were taken. That went on in the case of hundreds of thousands of acres of land which now has fallen down to grass or in some cases is covered by bracken. How to restore the fertility of that land is a more difficult matter, and I can only venture to suggest that the best method of doing it would be to make the growing of barley once again a paying proposition. If you do that you will get back your sheep and your cultivation.

I know that it will be said that what I am suggesting is going to cost a lot of money. It is, my Lords, but if you mean business in this matter of defence, it you really mean defence and not defance, I put it to you that it might be a good deal cheaper to have this country with all its soil 100 per cent. fertile and growing crops. I would like to remind your Lordships that guns become obsolete, and so do ships, in quite a small space of time. They are wasting assets. But if you have a fertile countryside growing its maximum of crops you have an asset which is not wasting but which brings health and prosperity in its wake.


My Lords, may I add a few words of congratulation to the noble Lord who addressed your Lordships for the first time and express the hope that we shall hear him many times in future? I think he deserves our thanks for having raised so interesting a subject. He mentioned national parks, but he was more concerned I think to explain to your Lordships the preservation of the countryside, which perhaps is not so easily carried out as the establishment of national parks, so possibly I may be allowed for one moment to address to your Lordships a word or two on the question of national parks from one point of view. The term is rather a vague one. It is used for the preservation of practically any part of the countryside, mainly for the purpose of preserving scenery. It has been suggested, for instance, that there should be a national park declared in the New Forest, possibly in the Forest of Dean, in Cumberland, in Northern Wales and elsewhere; that is, for the purpose of preserving the natural beauties of the country. This matter has been very carefully examined and with great success carried out by the society of which my noble friend the Marquess of Zetland is President—namely, the National Trust; and that particular aspect has also been the concern of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and I am sorry that we have not the advantage today of seeing the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, here, for I am sure he would have made an interesting contribution to the debate.

The aspect of the national park which I wish to mention to-day is its conception as an area maintained as far as possible in natural conditions with the special object of preserving indigenous flora and fauna; an area to which the public have every facility of access compatible with the object for which it is instituted. Some three and a half years ago an international conference sat here in your Lordships' House, in the Moses Room, at which a Convention was drawn up on these lines—or at least a great deal of it was on these lines—for the establishment of national parks in Africa. That Convention was signed by, I think, all the African Powers and has now been ratified by the great majority and is in force. His Majesty's Government and the Governments of South Africa and Northern Rhodesia were signatories of the Convention, and the principle has been adopted by them as far as Africa is concerned. In Africa, of course, there are two outstanding national parks: the Kruger Park in South Africa and the Pare National Albert in the Congo. Both of them are well known, and I dare say that members of your Lordships' House have visited, certainly, the Kruger National Park in South Africa. I am sorry to say that I have not done so myself, but I hope to do so some day.

The principle of national parks is, however, by no means confined to Africa. It exists also in Europe, and perhaps the best-known park in Europe is the National Park in Switzerland. There are others as well which will probably occur to your Lordships, but that is, I think, the best known. National parks have also been established for some years in Canada and the United States. My suggestion, with great respect to His Majesty's Government, is that, having recognised this principle in the British Empire, in Africa, and having signed the Convention, they might also recognise it as a desirable object to be attained in this country. Of course there are difficulties. We have not the vast uninhabited areas which they have in other countries. Those difficulties might, however, possibly be got over if the principle were adopted. You would require a considerable area undoubtedly, possibly as much as 100,000 or 150,000 acres, and the question arises where such an area would be available. I think that the easiest, and possibly the simplest, proposal would be to acquire a deer forest area on the West Coast of Scotland. If such an area were acquired the principle of managing it would be much on the same lines as that of managing a deer forest: that is to say, that you would have a sanctuary in the middle which would possibly consist of about one-third of the area, and the public should be admitted to the other two-thirds.

It may possibly be said that that is all very well, but in Africa and America there are animals of great interest and variety which should be preserved. I would suggest, however, that although many of the animals which have flourished in these Islands are now extinct, there is still a considerable variety and an interesting fauna still in existence which is well worthy of preservation. Anybody who goes to the South Kensington Museum and looks at the end room, the Mammal Gallery, will see what a very varied fauna we possess in these Islands. There are the three kinds of deer—red deer, fallow deer and roe deer; in Ross-shire there is the wild cat, and the pine-marten is still in existence in Wales and no doubt in Cumberland. Then, of course, there are commoner animals such as foxes, badgers and otters. If such a park were established I do not see why it should not be possible to raise a herd of Chillingham cattle. I know it is a moot point whether Chillingham cattle are really wild animals or not, but they are most interesting animals; they thrive with us at Whipsnade, and I do not see why they should not also thrive in a national park. There should also be access to the sea, or at any rate to a sea loch, and care should be given there to the preservation of marine animals. The question of bird sanctuaries is another matter. There are bird sanctuaries in many parts of the country, and although you could possibly acclimatise such animals as pine-martens or cats in a national park of this kind, you could not do that with birds. If, however, there were an undisturbed area both inland and on the sea, it should not be impossible to have there a useful and valuable bird sanctuary.

The question of cost would, of course, be not inconsiderable. There would have to be an initial outlay, but I do not think that the cost of running would be very much. I think that possibly the running of the park would be paid for by the visitors. The initial expenditure, the purchase or rent, would, I think, at any rate for a good many years, have to be met from other sources. The Government are now considering the question of encouraging open-air exercises. Is it too much to hope that they might give this idea some consideration? I do not seek any answer to it to-day, but I ask them to give it some consideration to see whether—of course with private assistance—it could not be carried out in some way or other. The scheme has, I know, for I have consulted various societies, the support of a number of those who are interested in these matters, and I am sure that if the Government could give it favourable consideration the scheme would be very well received.

Of course, in the African parks—the Kruger Park, for example—because of their very large size, it is possible to preserve carnivora, lions and other animals of that kind, and these keep down the graminivorous animals. In this country, of course, you could not do that; you would have to kill the deer and keep them down in that way. I do not, however, think that you would require on a national park of that kind to keep up as great a number of stalkers, watchers and gillies as you do on a deer forest. I think it could be run on more economical lines. You would have to have a certain number of stalkers to kill the deer, keep them down and look after them, and act as wardens, and a certain number of watchers to act as gamekeepers and prevent poaching. On the whole I should think they would be able to run it more economically than a deer forest. It is more a matter for Scotland than for England and Wales, but in view of the importance of such a preservation I think it also concerns in very large degree England and Wales as well as Scotland.

There is one other point which I should like to mention. In speaking of the preservation of rural England we are perhaps more inclined to consider the question of the preservation of scenery rather than of archæological and historical remains. I am glad that the noble Lord in his speech touched upon that aspect of the case. It is one which is well worthy of consideration, because we forget perhaps that the present rural economy is quite new. I suppose it is less than 150 years since many, if not all, of our villages were self-supporting. They grew their own corn, they grew their own fodder, they raised their own stock, they spun their own wool and so forth. There was no importation of tinned food, or of bacon from Denmark, or plums from South Africa. The rural industries and the rural communities maintained them- selves. In that connection I would venture to draw your Lordships' attention to a Report of Lord D'Abernon's Commission on National Museums and Galleries, in which he draws attention to the necessity of what is known as the Folk Museum. That term did not imply very much to me until I had read about the matter carefully.

Lord D'Abernon's Commission draws attention to the fact that such open air collections exist in other countries, notably the Skansen Museum in Stockholm. I know it very well. I spent six months in Stockholm once and visited this place frequently. This is what the Report says: The best known example is the 'Skansen' in Stockholm, where a large number of peasants' houses and other old buildings illustrating the life of the people have been re-erected in a large public park, all fitted with their appropriate furniture and contents. Nothing else can possibly give so true and vivid an impression of the life of the people in bygone generations. The visitor finds himself surrounded by evidences of the home life, the industries, and the art of different periods and different localities. It goes on to say: There is, as yet, nothing in the British Isles in any way resembling these open air museums…. Houses, cottages, workrooms, etc., and many other illustrations of the life of the people are fast disappearing, and in a very few years it will be impossible to make such an open air museum. It would clearly be of a national character, and should be situated, if possible, in London. I venture to make one suggestion. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is no longer present, because, as your Lordships know, he was recently returned to the London County Council, and I should have liked to draw his attention to the matter in that capacity. We have heard recently that the London County Council, in co-operation with the County Councils of Surrey, Middlesex aid other counties in the neighbourhood of London, have decided on and have gone far to establish what is known as a "Green Belt" round London. I venture to suggest that a part of this "Green Belt" might be devoted to the establishment of such an open air museum. It would not in the least interfere with its greenness, as I can well attest from having visited the one in Stockholm. It is just as green as any other part of the country. It has many other interesting factors as well. That might easily be established in the "Green Belt" round London by the London County Council. It would not, I think, be a costly affair. Indeed, it seems to me that it would be a very paying affair. It would be visited by a very large number of people, and a small entrance fee would, I am sure, bring in a considerable income.

Of course, there is this difficulty—at least I do not know whether it is a difficulty, but at any rate it is worthy of consideration: such an open air Museum must be of educational value. It must be a serious affair, and it must not degenerate into a sort of "fun fair." It requires to be considered seriously, and to be taken seriously, and the line would have to be drawn between a place which is really attractive and one which is merely a place of amusement where people go for a sort of picnic. But I do not know that that need present any great difficulty. The Royal Anthropological Institute, with which I have been connected in a humble capacity for a great number of years, is, I know, very anxious to see some sort of open air museum established in this country. There are one or two private ones already—there is one I think in Essex—but such an open air museum of a national character on a large scale is not yet in existence, and if it could be established on the "Green Belt" under the auspices of the London County Council, I believe it would be a paying concern. I am perfectly certain it would be attractive, and if would fill a great want.

There is one other point I should like to mention. It came up in the last debate which took place in your Lordships' House on this subject. The question was raised as to what was the best method of scheduling interesting buildings and keeping sight of them. I ventured to inform your Lordships, and my noble friend who is going to reply to this debate, of the action of the Surrey County Council in preparing a list of interesting buildings of the eighteenth century which were worthy of preservation. My noble friend Lord Crawford said he did not see that a list of that kind could be of very great value, because it would not be sufficiently informative. He said that what you really want is a survey giving a complete description of the buildings which exist. I entirely agree with that, but I venture to think that a list is of considerable value. You would have an authoritative list of the buildings which are really worthy of preservation in your county. At any rate, it gets known that they are worth preserving, and if there is a question of widening a road or pulling down the buildings for building purposes, attention is drawn to the matter. Public notice is taken, and very possibly some arrangement may be arrived at for its preservation. Therefore I think that such a list would be a valuable asset. It is very easy to obtain the archaeological assistance of the various counties, and in co-operation with the county councils they could make these lists. The survey, as I say, would be much more valuable, but it takes a very long time to get out a survey. These buildings are rapidly disappearing, and if we were to wait until such a survey is complete, I feel that there would not be a very large number of them left. I have ventured to make these suggestions to your Lordships, and I hope that some of them at least may receive some attention.


My Lords, this Motion is somewhat composite, and covers a somewhat large ambit, which is clearly evidenced by the diffuse discussion which has taken place upon it. I should like most heartily to congratulate my noble friend Lord Brocket on his maiden speech in this House, dealing with a most important problem, and my only criticism of his very able presentment of his case is that he did not definitely suggest to us any precise remedy for the evils which he has portrayed. I came down to the House this afternoon with the sole object, feeling some responsibility as President of the Gloucestershire branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, of suggesting to the noble Earl who is going to reply on behalf of the Government, first of all, that there may be somewhat different views to those he expressed the other day as to Kent being par excellence the most attractive County in this country. I would ask him at least to consider the claims of Gloucestershire. However that may be, I had intended to suggest to him that such matters as perfectly straight trunk roads passing from one end of the country to the other are of themselves likely to detract very materially from the aesthetic beauty of our once lovely fatherland, and in the second place to express the hope that something may be done to prevent the multiplication of unsightly advertisement hoardings, particularly in places of exceptional scenic beauty.

In that connection I should like to tell your Lordships that I initiated a not unproductive campaign when I was Governor-General of New Zealand in that exceptionally beautiful country—in fact, there is no country I am acquainted with that within the same area has a greater variety of outstanding scenic beauty. Unfortunately in recent years, no doubt following, as they almost invariably do there, the example set by the Motherland, there was beginning to spring up in every direction these unsightly advertisement hoardings in places like the beautiful southern lakes, on the shores of the lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti and even on the side of Mount Eden, the most beautiful mountain in the British Empire. Many of these advertisements, in fact most of the egregiously ugly ones, were put up for the possible benefit of motorists and for the prospective financial advantage of those who sold motor oil and spirit. That being so, I got into touch with all those interested in the sale of motor spirit, and found to my joy that, at any rate, the Shell-Mex Company in so far as it is administered at the Antipodes, was entirely in sympathy with my views and promised to remove every single advertisement hoarding, except just at the entrance to towns, from the main roads, if only all competitors in the business would do the same. My only comment about that is that though these advertisements put up by the Shell-Mex Company have been entirely removed from the surface of New Zealand, and to some extent others have followed the example of that Company, I am sorry to say that some of their non-British competitors have not quite acted up to the assurances which we obtained from them. However, they may ultimately do so. If that sort of thing can be done in New Zealand surely it can be done in this country.

I came down to this House to participate in a debate which, I fancied, would concentrate upon the maintenance of such remaining beauty as there is in our British countryside, but the debate has travelled over many other topics. My noble friend Lord Cranworth has given me to understand that he would be a little bit disappointed if I did not say something on the agricultural aspect of this problem. May I incidentally say that I entirely agree with everything that has fallen from my noble friend, who, as all present must admit, is a most experienced and enlightened agricultural landowner? There can, of course, be no question whatever that there has been a most serious and progressive deterioration in the quality and in the equipment of agricultural land in this country during the last thirty or forty years. It must be quite obvious to your Lordships that, that being so, there cannot be expected so large an output of economic produce—food and other produce—from British land unless that condition of deterioration is checked. I may say that coming two years ago from a country which has undoubtedly the finest pastures in the whole world composed entirely of British grasses, nothing struck me so much, when I returned to this country, as to notice—I hope I am not exaggerating—what appeared to me to be the appalling condition of the pastures of Great Britain—ill drained, filled with weeds, many of them containing more weeds than economic grasses, and suffering in many cases severely from lack of lime.

I am glad the noble Lord has referred to that lack of lime because there is a tendency in this country, particularly amongst those who are unscientific in their methods, to take out a large amount of bone-forming material and incidentally the eggs of our poultry, all of which requires lime, without putting anything back to replenish that depletion. That inevitably tells its tale in large areas of moss and, of course, in the prevalance of lime-starvation weeds. My noble friend Lord Brocket made one statement with which I at any rate cannot agree. He suggested, in regard to the landlord-tenant system, that it was an advantage to have what he called the farmer as a buffer between the landowner and his land. I am afraid I entirely dissent from that proposition.


It was the other way round. I said it was an advantage to have the landowner as a buffer between the farmer and a possible lack of prosperity.


I apologise to the noble Lord for misconstruing him, but what I want to suggest is that in this super-democratic country, which has not, I am sorry to say, any profound land sense, I cannot conceive the landowner being any effective buffer whatever. In other words, I am confident in my own mind that the landlord-tenant system is a most vulnerable factor in our economic structure, and the more encouragement we can give to our farmers to become owners of their land, and to the owners of land to become cultivators of it, the greater security to my mind will agriculture in this country enjoy and the more universal political support will be forthcoming for its maintenance from every Party in this State.

My noble friend mentioned a fact, which I am sure has occurred in other parts of the country, that when a farm tenant—or shall I say a farmer?—who has had the unfortunate experience recently of being the owner of his own farm has had the opportunity of reverting to the conditions of tenancy, he has rejoiced at the relinquishment of land ownership. But I can remember the time, and I dare say some of your Lordships can too, during the War period, when things appeared to be better and a larger margin of profit appeared to be available from agricultural operations. Then farmers in many parts of the country, including my own, were protesting against landowners maintaining in their own hands so large an area of land, and doing all in their power at auctions of estates to emphasise the fact that a landowner was not the proper person to become a purchaser, and that now was the opportunity for the farmer, as it were, to come into his own. Of course it all depends. The fondness for ownership, apart from its amenities and the scenic beauties, if they exist, lies in the possibility of some economic advantage being derived from it. In any case, we must all bear in mind, particularly if there is any fear of war in the future, that we must raise from the soil of our country a very much larger amount of produce than is possible to-day in the interests of security.

May I venture to suggest that the time is coming, if it has not already come, when it might be advisable for the leaders of all political Parties to get together and agree upon what is expected of the landowners of this country as a condition of their continuity as a separate class of the community, and, incidentally, what is the economic utility expected of them? Why should we continue those conditions of vulnerability of agriculture ownership? Why should this insecurity continue when possibly, as the result of our putting our heads together, we may agree upon some national scheme which will give the landlord a definite duty to perform in the national interest and a real pride in his proper function as the managing director of an agricultural business? At any rate that is the suggestion that I should like to put to your Lordships as the only ultimate issue of these perpetual discussions upon the injustices suffered by the landowning class, and the lack of inducement that there is to perform their proper function in the community.

I would only just indicate if I may, some of the effects of the lack of security which we as landowners enjoy, or fail to enjoy, to-day. A very large amount of the agricultural buildings and equipment on the farms of this country is ill-adapted to the present needs of our modern agriculture. We have been urged over and over again to produce what is called T.T. milk, in other words to have tuberculin tested cattle as a means of providing a safe milk supply. In the case of a large number of the farms on which this demand is now being made by tenants the landowner has not the means to provide the necessary equipment, and, incidentally, a good many of the farms upon which such equipment is required were never intended to be dairy farms at all, so that they do not possess the necessary buildings. In addition to that there is coming to be a real demand in this country for grass driers. How many landowners can afford to provide grass driers to deal with the products of their pastures in such a hopelessly wet season as last season? Moreover, there is an enormous amount of valuable herbage going to waste to-day in this country simply because grass driers are not, so far as the individual landowner is concerned, an economic proposition. And the same thing can be said of combine harvesters. In those areas where combine harvesters are being used in the South of England for drying wheat there is no doubt that they are proving an economic advantage to the farmer, but a farmer has to be a wealthy man to provide such plant and equipment. If it were possible to give real security to a landowner, particularly if he happen to be an occupying owner, all this plant and machinery in my judgment would rapidly be forthcoming, but as long as the feeling of insecurity exists, as it does to-day, there can be no premium put upon agricultural enterprise in Great Britain.


My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Viscount who has just spoken, although I could say a good deal upon the agricultural aspect of this Motion. I want to refer to the product last mentioned in the Motion—namely, timber, which has been very little discussed. It seems to me that timber is a very important asset to the country in the case of defence. During the Great War a great deal of timber was cut and it has not been replanted. The Forestry Commission, it is true, has been set up, but the great disappointment from my point of view of the Forestry Commission is that, although it does not pay Death Duties, it does nothing to encourage hard wood growing. It seems to me that an institution which does not pay Death Duties ought to confine itself to hard wood which takes much longer to grow than soft wood, yet you see many hard woods being cut down to-day and replaced by the Forestry Commission with soft woods. Now if this country really wants something for the time of national defence it is hard wood, and the one body which does grow timber but does not pay Death Duties should surely devote itself to growing hard wood rather than soft wood.

It does not pay the individual owner to grow hard wood unless he happens to have a long life, and even if he grows soft wood it is not likely that he will get a return for himself. His son gets it, or his grandson. In the case of hard wood there is scarcely any prospect of seeing a return within a century. Therefore I think that the Forestry Commission should be encouraged by the Government to turn its attention to hard wood growing and planting rather than to take the cream of the trade from private owners by growing soft wood. Not only that, but from the rural aspect surely hard wood adds much more to the beauty of the scenery than soft wood. I would urge upon the Government very strongly the desirability of encouraging the Fores- try Commission to pay more attention to hard wood growing than to soft wood. I myself have done my best as an owner to plant timber, but by force of circumstances it has to be very largely soft wood, because I require soft wood for my own maintenance purposes on the farm buildings, cottages, farm houses and so on. There is nothing like larch for that purpose, and the only chance of getting it is to grow it oneself rather than hard wood. I am perfectly sure that it is part of the defence of the country that we should have a supply of hard wood. Much was cut during the War, and it is a great pity that after the War we did not start to replace the areas which had been despoiled of hard wood and make further hard wood plantations.

We are very much indebted to the noble Lord for putting down such a comprehensive Motion, which allowed of a discussion touching on so many ways in which the rural areas can contribute to the defence of the country. I hope that this debate, having ranged over so many subjects of rural activity, may encourage the Government to pay a little more attention to the rural areas. I hope they will consider how those areas can help the country in making defence effective, and thereby ensure that in the future our country and Empire will be able to maintain the great position which they have maintained in the past.


My Lords, I rise with great diffidence, but I desire to give whole-hearted support to this Motion, in the hope that if it is well supported it will receive the careful consideration and sympathetic attention of the Government. It seems to me that one remedy for the difficulties which now confront the countryside is to be found in the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth. He referred to the need of every proper step being taken to develop the national food supplies. I believe that if the policy of expansion of the food supply of this country could go hand in hand with the expansion of the defence forces, if the two services, so to speak, could be linked up, it would lead to the solution of many of the problems which we are now considering. There is another aspect of the question. Why should not the smallest capitalists in our land, the farmers who have invested the whole of their capital in the land, have their interests defended? I believe it would not be difficult to devise a two-sided policy. In the first place, we should develop and expand to the utmost economic limit the food production of this country. That should be a peace time policy, one to make the fullest use economically possible of the land. In the second place behind that policy we should have a war time policy. That would not follow so closely lines of economic development, but it would aim at the production of the maximum food supply of the country in time of emergency. I would like to support this Motion because I believe it is a valuable pointer to the way we should go—that is, to take every possible step to look after our own countryside.


My Lords, the subject of this debate has been approached from many angles. The particular matter I wish to deal with is the preservation of the amenities of buildings. Your Lordships will remember—the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has reminded you—that we discussed this subject some time ago, both as regards England and Scotland. The subject to my mind is so important that I hope you will forgive me if I trespass on your time again. The preservation of amenities does not mean the same thing for all of us. Some are concerned to protect the wild Highland landscape from the degradation of industrialism. That was shown by the vote the other day in another place. Others are interested in safeguarding the tame landscape of the South of England from the disfigurement of suburbanisation. There is a third section who seek, as was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, this afternoon, to preserve the countryside in the interests of farmers and of agriculture generally. I think that more should be done to look after our treasured domestic buildings. Ancient buildings are looked after by the Historical Monuments Commission, but all our treasured and beautiful domestic buildings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are beyond the scope of that Commission. Until we destroy the notion that development must mean cutting down trees and demolishing old houses and generally devastating an area before you begin to develop, we shall never make any progress at all.

I am very strongly of opinion that the average local authority is very far from realising this truth. The eagerness of speculative builders to get seats on urban and rural district councils is a very bad symptom. It has been put to me more than once by thinking people that just as a brewer is disqualified from acting as a licensing justice, so should a builder be disqualified from voting or speaking at a meeting of any council of which he is a member in respect of any question affecting the building on land. Even if such an amendment of the law be possible, which I very much doubt, it would only touch the fringe of the question. Land and buildings having historical or traditional associations are a very definite asset to the nation. They constitute a source of inspiration and of individual emulation which can only be expressed by the play of economic forces such as the acquisition of estates or the construction of buildings of current technique and sense of amenity. The history of the civil and social development of this country is written in these buildings.

Little good, however, will come of any scheme of planning or preservation until we can catch the gambling speculator. His schemes of operation are the same all over the country. He puts down a deposit, he breaks up the farms, he cuts the timber, he destroys the beauty of the countryside and turns out the agricultural labourer from his cottage. Having either made his profit, which he generally does, or gone bankrupt, which he sometimes does, he leaves the countryside derelict and many people homeless, and, as often as not, destroys some beautiful old house that has been the pride of the district. He does no good to any one. It has been urged to me again that what ought to be done in this case is that land sold for speculative purposes should be heavily taxed on the increment, and the proceeds of the tax used for agricultural amenities and housing.

Certain public bodies and private individuals have done something to preserve the amenities of the countryside. The Royal Society of Arts, for example, have done valuable work at West Wickham, and reconditioned blocks of cottages at Bibury in the Cotswolds, at Steyning in Sussex, and in many other parts of the country, including Charles Lamb's cottage in Hertfordshire. The National Trust likewise has done good work in this respect, and private individuals also with regard to particular houses have done much. If your Lordships will allow me to quote very shortly a letter from a correspondent referring to an estate in the North of England, it will show what can be done by a private person. A beautiful and historic Charles I house and estate—this is the point which was put by the noble Lord, Lord Brocket—were about to be sold to a speculator. He said that he would use the house as a private residence, but at the last moment it was discovered that he was going to pull down the house and sell all the different bits, such as bricks, panelling, doors, etc., and had no intention of keeping it as a private residence. The family then decided to try owner development and consulted various agents. Eventually the farms and smallholdings were sold to the tenants at reasonable prices, and with some timber the same price was fetched as the speculator would have given for the whole. The house, the garden, the lake, the park and shooting, and the small dower-house were left. The house was divided into two and let to two families, the kitchen garden was let as a market garden, the park was let for grazing and the stables for hunting, all at very low rents. The house and garden were opened to the public on certain days and the money made at the gate was used to buy a very large amount of English tulips and other flowers. In this way the house, allowing for a caretaker, gardener, rates, repairs and alterations, now brings in £200 a year more than it costs. No one has been turned out and a great deal of employment has been given.

This is an experience of what has happened when an individual owner has endeavoured to preserve an ancient house and, if possible, to save it from the ravages of speculators. My correspondent adds that the estate next door was sold to the speculator, the house of historic interest was demolished and timber cut, and forty families were turned out homeless. There are examples of efforts that have been made both by public bodies and by private individuals, but I think your Lordships must all agree that, however active private individuals and public bodies may be, they cannot accomplish very extensive results by piecemeal efforts. Any effort having for its object the preservation of the countryside must be made upon an organised basis. The exploitation of the countryside falls in the main under two heads: mass-produced houses, and wayside commercial enterprise in the form of shack development. The cure for this is not to stop the enterprise underlying it, but to guide it by better direction. The most simple and inexpensive way to do this is to insist upon skilled architectural treatment controlling the design and development without checking in any way the underlying or commercial impulse.

That is what I suggest should be done. How it is going to be accomplished I do not know, but before I sit down I propose to make a certain suggestion to the noble Earl who represents the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, referred in his speech to the Housing Acts. I agree that they require amending. It is the general considered opinion that many lovely old cottages are now being demolished by the local authorities because they can only get the subsidy to rebuild new cottages to replace the old ones which have been condemned. Landlords can receive a portion of the cost of reconditioning, but some landlords take the view that it pays them better to demolish and get the local authority to rebuild with the subsidy. Such a state of things should not be. Another matter which gravely affects the rural villages, but which perhaps does not come within the purview of the Motion, is the threat to the agricultural labourer and those of humble means who are required to live in country cottages. A practice has come into vogue in recent years of speculators buying up good cottages at low prices and letting them as week-end bungalows. This especially takes place where estates have been broken up. The tenants are turned out and the cottages are slightly altered or added to and sold at higher prices. In a parish in Hertfordshire, for example, twenty-five cottages were bought a short time ago at low prices, turned into weekend bungalows and sold at any price up to £1,600.

The Motion which the noble Lord proposed also deals with employment in country villages. I think that is most important. In the country villages and small towns the relationship between the employers and the workpeople is always harmonious and is much better than in the large industrial centres. Disputes or differences seldom arise and if they do they are capable of adjustment among the people themselves. I quite agree with what the noble Lord says, that every effort should be made to encourage industrial enterprise in villages and country towns. How are the objects of the Motion to be secured? A great many propositions have been put forward which might lead to a solution, but opinions are sharply conflicting and the vested interests are insuperable. I suggest to the noble Earl that he might consider the advisability of setting up a Committee or a Royal Commission to deal with the whole question of the disfigurement of the countryside by extension of buildings, destruction of estates and the spoliation of the landscape. Whatever might be the effect of its report—whether it resulted in legislation or was of guidance to local authorities and owners of properties—it would be a most useful thing and would enable those who are interested in matters of this kind to do their best to protect in every way the beauties of our countryside.


My Lords, you will realise the breadth of the Motion which my noble friend Lord Brocket has put down when I tell your Lordships that I had to go to five separate Government Departments and the Forestry Commission before I could get briefs to reply to the debate which was likely to arise. Even so I have not covered the field, because my noble friend the Lord Chairman has produced discussions on national parks which took us off to South Africa. I am bound to say that I am not going to follow him there. All I can say on that issue is that it seemed to me that he was proposing to set up a national park in which he was going to prepare for the preservation of wolves, so that they should be ready to eat the women and children after the revolution which Sir Stafford Cripps and supporters of the Party opposite perhaps earnestly desire. That perhaps is all I need say with regard to the South African part of the question, but I would remind my noble friend that there are in fact national parks already, for the preservation of bird sanctuaries and so on, in the Royal Parks, and elsewhere under the National Trust. I think your Lordships will feel that a national park of 100,000 acres in these small Islands is a very large area to take, and I am afraid I am not so optimistic as is my noble friend, who thinks that the maintenance of that area would be a small item. The mere fencing of it would cost a very large amount of money, not only for its original erection but, as those who have to deal with deer forests will tell him, for maintenance, which is a very severe charge.

No one perhaps is more suited to raise this subject than my noble friend Lord Brocket, who made a most admirable maiden speech. He himself has taken a very considerable share in the preservation of country houses, as those who know Bramshill can very readily testify. But some parts of the debate of course went a good deal beyond the terms of the Motion, as is not unusual in your Lordships' House, and we have had a lot of discussion about agriculture. There, although I have got a brief from the Ministry of Agriculture, I do not propose to follow my noble friend Lord Cranworth very far. As he knows, the Government are considering the whole question of food supply in time of war, which everybody agrees must be at any rate started in times of peace. But my noble friend did not remind your Lordships, as he might have done, of other sides of the question, which will no doubt be debated a good deal to-morrow. If you are going to increase the food production of this country you must cut down the production which comes to it from elsewhere, and that is going at once to affect the question which is to be raised to-morrow in regard to the sale of produce from the Dominions and the whole question of oversea markets for the manufactured products which we sell.

But a curious thing has arisen. I must agree, I am afraid, with the noble Lords who say that the fertility of our land has gone down very materially in the last few years. I think the answer to that really is that if we can only get more profit out of agriculture, farmers would be prepared to spend a good deal more on manures, whether it was for lime or phosphates and such like, and that increase would put the fertility back in a very short space of time. I am afraid I do not agree with my noble friend when he says that it is a continuing benefit, because most of us who have farmed our land know that when we have put in manure and taken crops out of the land, if we do not do it again in a short period, we find that the land has gone down again.


I said that chalk went on for fifty years. That is, after all, an enduring use.


I agree. That is true of some manures and particularly of drainage, which is a different thing. But one other point in regard to draining is that the old generation of those who used to drain our land is dead. I know my noble friend will agree with me that the deep draining which is required for field drainage is a very skilled operation, and those who have done it in the old days have passed away and their sons have lost the art. It is going to be a most difficult question hereafter, unless machinery once more comes to our assistance and finds a way out. I would like to point this out, that in spite of the fertility of our land having gone down, actually the output of agriculture in the last three or four years has gone up by a very material amount. It has increased in England and Wales by no less than 14 per cent. between 1931 and 1936. But what has happened concurrently, none the less, is that the number of those employed in agriculture has fallen in the same period by no less than 10 per cent. As he knows, that is due to the increased use of machinery, and in particular to the fact that farm wages are such a very heavy part of the expenditure which the farmer has to make in getting a return out of his land. But, taking it from the war point of view, that is an advantage. Of course, it is impossible to visualise what a future war may mean, but at any rate we shall all realise that it is going to mean a vast increase in the number of people who will be required to work in factories on munitions. Therefore if you can produce your food with a minimum of labour it is of advantage to you in war time, although I think all of us will agree that from the health point of view it is an appalling disadvantage to find fewer people being employed on the land than used to be so employed when we were younger.

The Government have already a very considerable policy in regard to preservation of the land but because it is scattered over all these Departments it is very largely lost sight of among the bigger questions of the day. For instance, we have tried to get people on the land by increasing wages, which has been done under the agricultural Wages Com- mittees, and to try to tempt people to remain working on the land rather than go to the towns, where they get higher wages. The wages have thus been increased by 7 per cent. in the last three or four years. But farm workers have now been brought under the National Employment Insurance Act, and that too, we hope and believe, is an encouragement for them to stop on the land. In regard to housing, the Housing (Rural Workers) Act has been extended from the very short period for which it was originally introduced, partly I think by the Party opposite when they were in office. They thought it a very bad Bill when they were in Opposition, but when they came into office they found it was a good Bill. The Act has now been extended to 1938, and I should not be surprised if it were extended longer, although I have no authority for saying so. But already £1,000,000 has been spent under that Act for the improving of houses which are in existence, instead of pulling them down, half of that amount being found by the Government end half by local authorities out of the rates. Over 13,000 cottages have been or are being reconditioned under that Act since it was passed eleven years ago. I admit that is not a very large number, but at any rate it is a considerable number. The Act is, I think, getting much better known throughout the country than it was in the earlier days, and it is being taken more advantage of year by year. That, as I think Lord Amulree would certainly be one of the first to agree, is a great advantage.

In regard to the amenities of the countryside, a large number of bodies, both governmental and public, have taken an interest in that question, such as the National Council of Social Services, the Rural Industries Bureau, and the National Federation of Women's Institutes. Provision has been made for village halls in a very large number of cases, and already 350 of them have been assisted. Similarly, assistance has been given for the development of rural industries, and those of your Lordships who attend the Royal Show every year know that there is a very good exhibition of those rural industries to be seen there. I only wish they were much better known, because really some of the work done by blacksmiths is very fine indeed, and if some of us had more money we should probably take advantage of that more than we do. But I think those of us who have bought things of that kind have found that they are by no means expensive, considering the work involved, and compare very favourably with much that was done in past days in this country. Similarly, a good deal of encouragement has been given to local handicrafts, and there again women have been brought in to keep up some of the old industries such as rag rugs, which are still made in many parts of Yorkshire and in some of those less-favoured counties, as I said the other day. I am sorry that Lord Bledisloe is no longer here, because he walked straight into my hands. I was astonished to hear him talk—I suppose it is on account of his having been away in New Zealand—about "such remaining beauty as there is in the English countryside." I cannot speak for Gloucestershire, but I can speak, in some way perhaps, for Kent.

Let me return to the preservation of amenities. My noble friend the Lord Chairman talked about the National Parks Committee. That reported, of course, before the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, was brought into effect, and that Act has done largely what that Committee suggested. Planning schemes now cover twenty-two million acres, or nearly two-thirds of the whole of Great Britain, and although they are not actually in operation, they are under consideration, mostly on a regional basis, which I think everyone will agree is the right method to consider these very big questions. All of us would agree with Lord Bledisloe in what he said in objecting to straight trunk roads. I have got a brief from the Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry of Transport talk a great deal about the siting of roads to maintain the beauties of the countryside, to preserve grass verges to the roads, and to see that trees are not cut down where it is possible to avoid doing so, and trees and plants planted elsewhere—all admirable in their way. I may be old-fashioned, but I prefer some of the narrow country roads to the wider things we now use; but as I am still in possession of my first motor car perhaps I am outside the pale.

With regard to the question of the preservation of open spaces, a great deal has been done—magnificent work—by the National Trust, and this has been largely assisted by some members of your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Gage has, I believe, agreed that over one thousand acres on the South Downs should be preserved from building for ever, and Lord Astor and Lord Desborough have both agreed to the preservation of some three hundred acres on the banks of the Thames in the lovely area around Cliveden and Taplow. If that is extended, I believe we shall go really as far as it is possible in preserving the most beautiful areas in this wonderful country of ours and in seeing they are not spoiled.

I am a little doubtful about Lord Amulree's suggestion in regard to a Royal Commission on the preservation of the countryside, because it would be very difficult to appoint such a Commission. I would be a little afraid of appointing some of the great architects. I hope I shall not get into trouble with my Department as a result of what I am about to say. I happen to be working with some quite exceptional architects in the Office of Works, as everyone who has seen their work will agree, but I am old-fashioned when I see some of the things recommended in the architectural papers as models to follow—what I would call atrocities in concrete and glass cases, and such like. All I say is, Heaven forbid that we should have many of them about in this country‡ I think that, at any rate, is the view of your Lordships' House, but if we were to have a skilled Commission I am not quite certain we should not be urged to be more original and told that the past is not good enough for us. I am not sure, if we were to employ architects to look after some of this strip building which is done along the roads, it would be very much better than it is to-day. Undoubtedly, people are putting things up which suggest that if the local building by-laws were more carefully administered, many of them would be forbidden altogether. It is a question of expense in many cases. Adequate inspection is not made, and the result is that things are allowed to pass which, as I said on a previous occasion, I only hope will fall down before we are very much older.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Health was very much taken with the proposal by the Lord Chairman in our previous debate as to the scheme pre- pared by the Surrey County Council in regard to buildings worthy of preservation. He is bringing the work done by the Surrey County Council to the notice of other County Councils, and we hope to have similar lists prepared by them. I cannot pretend that that is going to cover the whole question. It requires a great deal of skill to decide what is worth preserving and what, in fact, can be preserved. There are many cases in which, although houses are quite delightful to look at, we should be very sorry to live in them ourselves. Very often, as was said on the last occasion, they can be made habitable. Bigger windows can be put in, sometimes the elevation of a room can be raised, although that may be rather an expensive business, and other improvements can be made; but now and then that is not possible, and we either have to keep a house as what we call a "museum piece" uninhabited, when it loses a great deal of its character and charm, or harden our hearts arid pull it down. A great deal more can be done in that direction than is clone now, and both my Department, so far as it comes into the matter, and the Ministry of Health are fully alive to the question. I may point out that, of course, the Planning Act gives power for preserving all buildings of architectural and historic interest, and can prevent demolition under Section 17.

The noble Marquess. Lord Aberdeen, referred to forestry. Here, again, I have a brief from the Forestry Commission. I must not go into it at length, because your Lordships have other things to do, but they, too, have done a great deal since the Act of 1919. They have already planted three hundred thousand acres. That has given employment in many directions which has kept more people on the land, and they are hoping to have an extension of this planting scheme by extending it, in particular, to the Special Areas, where they hope to plant a further two hundred thousand acres in the course of the next few years. In regard to the question of hard woods, the number in millions of tree-plants planted in a recent year was fifty-three millions. Of that number, seven millions were broad-leaved trees—that is to say, hard woods, and it is suggested that that proportion is not far wrong from the point of view of the wood actually used in this country.

I am informed that nine-tenths of the wood used in this country is, in fact, soft wood, and therefore the Forestry Commission are, in fact, planting a bigger proportion of hard wood than is at present consumed. I agree with my noble friend that the Forestry Commission ought to give private landowners a lead in this matter, because they go on in perpetuity and some of us do not. I think they are beginning to realise that, and this autumn, I understand, they may plant a great deal more hard wood trees than they have done in recent times. It may be quite true, as the noble Marquess has suggested, that they have at the back of their minds the thought that soft woods grow faster than hard woods, and therefore that if one wants to get the supply of timber increased at an early date obviously the quicker way to do it is to plant soft woods. I cannot make any promise in the matter, but, as my noble friend will see, the Forestry Commission are not quite so black as perhaps we have been accustomed to paint them.

My noble friend who introduced the debate referred to the question of Death Duties. It is one that is in all our minds. It is not, I am afraid, only Death Duties that knock out the landowner in these days; it is the very heavy increased taxation he has to pay annually, although Death Duties, being a tax on capital, is a much heavier tax than the tax on income, and when it is added to the Income Tax it is the last straw that breaks the landowner's back. But it is, I am afraid, very largely the increase of Income and Surtax, the reduction in dividends from various sources, and the reduction of rents which have knocked the landowner out. There are expenses in other directions too. The unfortunate owner of a big house, as all of us know, has to pay an immense amount to keep tie roof over his head. Building operations which used to cost, comparatively speaking, shillings before the War now cost pounds, and his household staff, both indoor and outdoor, is much more costly. His expenses have gone up in every direction as well as his taxes, and unless he can find some more money from somewhere he is knocked out. But I do not think it is only the Death Duties that do it. It has often been said that any fool can make money but only a wise man can keep it. The State takes good care that it is now more difficult to keep it than it was, and many of us certainly find it is not more easy to make than it used to be.

I think there is not much more that I can say to your Lordships. I am afraid I have already detained you longer than I had intended. Perhaps I ought to say, in regard to a remark that was made with reference to tenants and occupier-owners, that it has not been my experience that even in the good times farmers were anxious to become owners. In my own case I sold an estate before the War, and I sold it on conditions that enabled a mortgage to be held by the tenants for a term of ten years at a very low rate of interest. The War being over, I said I was not prepared to continue that mortgage, and that the ten years being up they must pay it off. And they had the money to do so. I think every one of my tenants bought, but in several cases they came up from Devonshire and asked whether I would take the land back again and rent it as an estate. They said they found that the worst owner they had ever had was themselves, and they preferred that somebody else should find them in capital and do all the other kinds of services which—I am afraid my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, in his absence in other parts of the world, has forgotten—landowners do. They were anxious to be taken over once again and to be relieved of the expense of keeping their places in repair. It largely depends on how an estate is run, but I believe that tenants are happier, and able to get more out of their land and spend their money to better use, when they are tenants under a good landlord than when they are themselves occupying owners. I admit that from the political point of view perhaps it is safer to have occupying owners. The more owners we can have in this country the more difficult it will be for noble Lords opposite to carry out some of their intentions which, I think, are not quite so innocent as some noble Lords who read their recent propaganda in the Press appear to think.

It has been suggested in the Press, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, rather suggested, that we ought to go in more for garden cities. There are many advantages in garden cities if they are properly laid out and put in the right places. May I remind your Lordships that there is a very old saying that God made the country, and man made the large towns, but the devil made the small town. And many of us who have had to try and smooth out matters in a small town realise that the devil has been in occupation very thoroughly. We are not very much inclined to add to the number of small towns rather than extend the bigger towns a little more.

I am afraid I have sketched over the ground covered by the debate, but perhaps I have said enough to show that His Majesty's Government really have a policy for the preservation of the countryside. It does not go so far as many of us would like it to go—-that would be an extremely expensive matter—but we have a policy and are endeavouring to carry it out, and that it is having a considerable amount of effect is true. I hope your Lordships will feel that, although progress may not be as rapid as we should like, we are beginning to appreciate the heritage we have received from our forefathers, to realise that it is worth preserving, and to see that the destruction shall be as small as possible in view of the many new and scientific processes and the improvements of locomotion, etc., which compel us to alter many of the things we should like to have preserved.


My Lords, may I refer briefly to two points, both raised by my noble friend the Lord Chairman? One was about circulating lists of country houses and of interesting and historic buildings in the country. That has been advocated more than once in this House, and there is certainly a good deal to be said for local authorities being supplied with lists of that kind. The other point is in regard to the cutting up of large parks. I do not know if my noble friend actually made the suggestion, but he touched upon this point. There is still a power in the Exchequer to take land in part payment of Estate Duty, and if some use were made of that power, possibly in the way that the noble Lord opposite suggested—namely, that there should be a higher rate of taxation if the park were bought for breaking up purposes—something perhaps might be done in that way. Both suggestions are, I think, of some value. I read in a newspaper the other day a suggestion that there should be bungaloid reservations by which a cer- tain class of building would be kept within a segregated area; but I am afraid that that is not a practicable suggestion.


My Lords, I feel very much complimented by the immense trouble which the noble Earl who has replied on behalf of the Government has gone to, and if the Motion which I brought in has had the effect of stirring up five or six different Government Departments I will not say that I am sorry I made it as wide as I did. It is really a great satisfaction that so many noble Lords have taken part in this debate, and I think members of all Parties will realise that the agricultural landowner is not the avaricious person which some politicians, particularly before the War, held him to be. It may be that when it is too late people of all Parties will regret that something was not done earlier to preserve the agricultural landowner in order that he should preserve the country and help to finance agriculture.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer except to say this. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, accused me of making no suggestions. I think actually the suggestions which I made were quite apparent, that it was necessary for the preservation of the countryside and the financing of agriculture to make security of tenure for the agricultural landowner better, and one way of doing that was by not charging on the death of each landowner this large tax, taking a slice of his capital. I agree entirely with the noble Earl that it is not only the tax of capital which prevents the landowner from remaining the owner of his land; it is also the tax on income. But it is when a large slice of capital is demanded that a sale usually has to take place. It may get more awkward for an owner to live in a house owing to Income Tax, but I cannot help feeling that it is Death Duties which provide the last straw which breaks the agricultural landowner's back.

I would like to thank all those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, and to say how much I appreciate their interest in this subject. I am very glad that the Government are so alive to the position. I knew they would be, but I am not sorry that I inaugurated this debate because every time this subject is discussed I think it will become more obvious to all political Parties that agri- cultural landowners do perform a very great service. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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