§ Mr. GRUNDY
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether his Department is aware of the highly organised efforts now being made in the county of Bedford to prevent the acquisition of land for allotments by the employment of professional land agents to claim excessive compensation and to fight every reasonable endeavour to secure allotment land as provided by the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919; and whether he will make inquiries with a view to coming to some arrangement to facilitate the working of the Act?
§ Sir R. SANDERS
It is no doubt the case that in connection with the acquisition of land for allotments the owners and tenants of the land frequently engage professional assistance in connection with their claims for purchase money, rent, and compensation. In view of the fact, however, that full powers of compulsory acquisition are provided by Statute, and that if such powers are exercised the 1829W price, rent, or compensation is determined, in default of agreement, by an official arbitrator, it does not seem necessary to take any special action in the matter.
Mr. F. HALL
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the large amount of arable land now being sown down to grass by farmers in the county of Bedford, with a view to the wholesale reduction of labour; if his attention has been drawn to recent threats of a larger area still being so sown down; whether he is aware that the amount of purely rural unemployment is increasing at a rapid rate in that county; and will lie therefore issue instructions for the rigid application of the provisions of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, in that county, so that the unemployed landless men may grow food to feed their families?
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The information at the disposal of the Ministry does not support the statements by the hon. Member, but if he will supply further particulars I will have inquiries made. As regards the last part of the question, the provisions of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act are being carried out as expeditiously as possible in this county. Up to 16th February, 1921, the number of applicants settled amounted to 521 including 45 civilians, and 7,471 acres of land had been acquired.
§ Mr. HIRST
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the system under which officials of county councils are permitted to make a purely personal charge for the work involved in the transfer of land to registered small-holdings societies; that recently the ex-service smallholders in Bedfordshire have been charged and paid a sum of about £20 in fees to one of the county officials when their society took over a farm for small-holdings; if he will cause inquiries to be made and a return called for showing the total amount received in this way by officials of county councils; and if he will issue a circular that such charges should be prohibited?
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The Ministry has no information with regard to the particular case in Bedfordshire referred to by the hon. Member, but the Ministry is aware that in that county it is the practice for a registered small-holdings society which is acquiring land under the county1830W council either to employ their own valuer to settle the question of tenant right valuation or to arrange for the county land agent to act for them, in which latter case the usual fee for the work (which does not fall within the county land agent's ordinary duties) is properly payable by the society. If the hon. Member will furnish the Ministry with particulars of any other charges to which he takes exception the Ministry will consider whether it is necessary to take action on the lines suggested by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether the attention of his Department was drawn last Michaelmas to the application of certain ex-service men at Colmworth, in the county of Bedford, for land for small-holdings, their live-stock at that time being grazing on the road side consequent upon eviction from church land in that parish; if he is aware that since the men have been offered land and threatened by the land officer of the county council that unless they pay £10 per acre compensation for some of the worst land in the district their application will not be proceeded with; and if, in such circumstances, he will instruct one of his officers to see that these men secure the necessary land minus threats and absurd compensation?
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The Ministry is aware of a demand for small-holdings on the part of ex-service men at Colmworth, Bedford. It is understood that the county council have authorised the making of a compulsory hiring order for 22 acres of pasture land to meet the demands of the applicants who desired to obtain vacant possession of the land at Ladyday next. The county land agent pointed out that if the council exercised their powers of entering on the land at 14 days' notice, the present tenant would be entitled to claim a considerable sum as compensation, which might amount to £10 an acre. The Ministry is informed that the county land agent did not state that the men would have to pay this compensation, but expressed a doubt as to whether the council would consider the payment of such compensation justifiable, as it would result in the loss on the scheme being excessive. It was accordingly suggested 1831W to the men that they should be content with vacant possession of the land at Michaelmas. The only sum which the men were told they must pay on entry was for unexhausted manurial value. The Ministry does not consider the county council have acted unreasonably in the matter, and is not prepared to interfere.