§ Order for Committee read.
§ * MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
, in rising to move— 628That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert clauses in the Bill creating Parish Councils by popular election for the purposes of the Bill, and conferring upon such Councils initiatory powers of acquiring, selling, letting, and managing land for small agricultural holdings,said: I have purposely limited the issue in the Instruction I propose, so as to make it a very narrow one. I will not go into the question of compulsory purchase or of leasing, or other controversial points. I will deal with the simple question, Is it desirable to create popularly elected Parish Councils with initiatory powers of acquiring, selling and letting land for small holdings? It is obvious that the success of any measure having to do with small holdings, allotments, or any kindred subject must largely depend on the authority which has to carry out the powers given by the Act of Parliament. The question is, which is the best authority? There arises, too, another important question, whether that authority should have control over a large area or over a small one? In answering these questions we have some experience to guide us. We have the experience of the working of the Allotments Act, for, after all, the supply of allotments, so far as the area is concerned, is similar in principle to the supply of small holdings. In the electoral campaign of 1885 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said in one of his speeches that whether it was five acres, or ten acres, or 20 acres, or even more, it was only a question of degree: the principle was precisely the same. In fact, there is no magic in acreage, and I think everyone will agree with me in this—that if the Local Authority is fit to be trusted to take the initiative in regard to the supply of allotments, it is equally to be trusted in taking the initiative with reference to the supply of small holdings. As the House knows perfectly well, in the Allotments Act of 1887—and I am speaking now of absolutely rural and agricultural districts, with which I am far more familiar than with towns where there are County Councils—the authority is the Rural Sanitary Authority, or what is more generally known as the Board of 629 Guardians. I do not wish to raise tonight, in moving this Instruction, the question as to whether the Allotments Act has been a success, or whether it has been a failure—I have my own opinion as to that, and I have expressed it more than once in this House—but there is one thing that will be generally admitted, and that is, that the authority under the Allotments Act is not a satisfactory authority. I might quote the best opinion we have in this House upon that point, that is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. I remember that on the Second Reading of the Allotments Act Amendment Act in 1890 he distinctly said that the Board of Guardians had been proved not to be a satisfactory authority for administering the Act; and indeed the whole reason why the Amendment Act was brought in was because it had been proved over and over again throughout the country that the Guardians had not done their duty in the administration of that Act. When the Allotments Act of 1887 was in Committee we, who are sitting on these Benches, repeatedly pointed out that the Boards of Guardians would be an inefficient authority, and why? We urged—and I think it has been proved since to be true—that Guardians coming from different parishes which are not near each other must be ignorant as to the interests of the parishes except of that from which they are sent. It is impossible for Guardians under such circumstances to be competent to administer the Allotments Act. It is essential in all matters affecting localities that those who have to administer any Act should have local knowledge; and my own experience has proved that there is no matter which requires more accurate and more special knowledge than that of supplying land for allotments and small holdings. The land is naturally of more interest to the people living in the villages than any other subject. The whole lives of the labourers have been identified with it and spent upon it, and they have for years and years been longing that the day will at last come when they will themselves benefit from the land which they have cultivated with their own hands, by either renting it or owning some 630 of it themselves. Now how is this to be done? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, in the speech which he made in December, 1889, in Manchester, used these words in answer to the question as to how you are to enable labourers to get land either for allotments or small holdings:—You must go to the doors of the men who are immediately concerned. You must get from them, and from their immediate neighbours, the fullest advantage of local knowledge.I quite agree with that, and I say you will not get that knowledge from Boards of Guardians. It is not too much to say, without questioning the usefulness or non-usefulness of the Allotments Act, that it has proved that Boards of Guardians have not sufficient knowledge to enable them to carry out that Act of Parliament. In 1890 the hon. Member for Hornsey said, from the opposite Benches, whilst discussing the Amendment Bill which was brought in by the President of the Local Government Board:—There is no disputing the failure of the Act of 1887. … The causes of failure are the large area of the authority and the remoteness of the meeting place.I entirely agree with that. It must be evident that the class which is really interested in getting allotments is not represented on such Boards. How much stronger then must be the objections to the larger area of the County Council? The President of the Local Government Board quite recognised that when introducing the Allotments Bill in 1887. The right hon. Gentleman said in the course of his speech:—We think that the area of the county is too large.The hon. Member for Bordesley, in the numerous Bills he has brought in—and we thank him for the trouble and attention he has given to this question in past years, when it was not so popular as it now is—adopted not the larger authority of the county, but the authority of the Boards of Guardians, and where there might be District Councils he adopted that authority. Now, the District Councils would have the same area as Boards of Guardians, which has been proved under the Allotments Act to be too large an area. Therefore, we must have some smaller authority 631 for the purpose of administering the Acts, and it is clear that Parish Councils ought to be established. They could not be established in every parish, I admit. In one parish in my own constituency there is only one ratepayer and only five inhabitants, which consist of that ratepayer and his wife and children. It would be ridiculous to have a Parish Council in that parish. The question which will have to be decided one day, when a Bill has been brought in by a responsible Government for establishing Parish Councils, is, what shall be the minimum population which shall elect Parish Councils? Take the limit of 200 for the purpose of argument, although some think 300 would be better, and some would go higher than that. The hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Cust), in an able speech which he made on the Second Reading of the Allotments Bill, compared the populations of parishes, and showed how difficult it would be to establish Parish Councils; but if you take the populations of other elective areas, the variations will be found to be quite as striking. Let me deal first with the populations in the Parliamentary areas for which there are only single Members. Cardiff has a population of 132,000, and there are many constituencies with populations over 100,000; but then there is Durham with only 15,200, Kilkenny with 13,300, and many others with populations under 20,000. The variations are, however, even more striking when we deal with the populations of Unions—that is, the areas presided over by Boards of Guardians under the Allotments Act. In the Union of West Derby the population is 444,000, whilst in Sedbergh it is only 4,000. Still more striking, as it affects this Bill, is the variation in the County Council areas. For instance, in Rutland the population is only 20,600, and in the Soke of Peterborough it is 36,200; whereas the population of the West Riding is 1,307,500, and that of Lancashire 1,768,200, and yet each of these elect a separate County Council. Therefore, taking the minimum as low as 200 for the Parish Council, there is no greater variation between the populations of parishes han of the counties which now elect 632 County Councils. In regard to this matter the hon. Member for Hornsey, in his speech in 1890, said—The cry about the difficulty of small parishes is a mere bugbear.I will now deal with another objection which has been taken, as to the financial radius. It is quite clear that the Parish Councils in small villages would not be competent to deal with complicated financial arrangements, although I think the day will arrive when they will be just as competent as County Councils. It has not, however, been proposed, so far as I know, that they should do more than take the initiative in supplying allotments; the rating, borrowing, and financing should be done by the County Councils. The First Lord of the Treasury has said that it was not right that one authority should take the initiative in the supply of land, and that another authority should be called upon to finance it. These are his own words—If the rating area is large you can hardly give the power of administration to a small area.But I ask, why not? What is there that is unfair in giving the initiative for taking the land to the smaller authority, such as the parish, and rating the area of the larger authority, if ultimately any deficiency is allocated and charged upon the rate of the smaller area? At the present time, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture will acknowledge, the County Council borrows on the County Rate under the Public Health Act for purposes the expense of which are ultimately borne by the parish; and under the Allotment Act the County Council or the Sanitary Authority can borrow on the Parish Rate. Now, why should not the parish initiate the taking of land, and the County Council finance it, and either borrow on the County Rate and allocate to the Parish Rate, or borrow direct upon the Parish Rate? This is a very complicated question of rating, and I will not go further into it until we get into Committee on the Bill. I have endeavoured to meet the two main objections to the establishment of Parish Councils—namely, the question of the variation of the population, and also the diffi- 633 culties with regard to finance. I should now like to ask why are the Tory Party so afraid of Parish Councils? Why does the Prime Minister go out of his way to insult the labourers of England by assuming that when they are asking for Parish Councils they are only asking for them as a means of recreation? He has said, in his sneering way, that he would recommend that, instead of their having Parish Councils, they should have parish circuses. I think that is not worthy of so great a statesman. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer sneers at Parish Councils. He seems to forget that in 1871, when he was supposed to be a Liberal, and when he made a great speech in this House, he stated over and over again that the parish was the proper unit for Local Government. The Bill he then introduced sought to provide the machinery for the election of Parochial Boards, which were exactly the same as Parish Councils. Again, while standing for Edinburgh in 1885, under the wing of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, he emphasised what he had said in 1871, and made it a great deal stronger. Now, however, that he is in the place where he ought always to have sat, only the last time he spoke of Parish Councils, at Cambridge in October, he said—Parish Councils are one of the fallacies by which they" (meaning the wicked Radicals) "have beguiled the rural population.I think he will find, when the time comes, that the rural population are not so easily beguiled as he thinks. Then, too, the hon. Member for Stamford, in the speech to which I have already alluded, said that if there were Parish Councils there would be an excess of local knowledge, which would stir up jealousy and parochial feud, and produce Communism in the villages of England. The Tory Members of agricultural constituencies go about denouncing Parish Councils, and say that they are only held out to the people as a sort of bait in order to catch their vote, but this has only helped to prove that their real objection to our Irish policy is not to Home Rule in Ireland, but to Home Rule in the English villages. They do not like the idea of giving up 634 the rule of the landlords and squires, and clergy; and, therefore, in this Bill they would wisely, from their point of view, make the County Council the necessary authority. The great objection which has been urged to Boards of Guardians is that they have no proper knowledge of, and no sufficient sympathy with, the people for whom they would administer the Act, but that objection would apply even more to County Councils. I saw published in the papers the other day a list of chairmen of the County Councils. It showed pretty clearly what class they were. In 21 cases they were Peers, in ten Baronets, and most of the others were landowners. Well, that does not open up a very pleasant prospect for the labourer in obtaining small holdings. I believe that whenever the Bill comes to be administered the labourers will find that the County Councils are worse than the Board of Guardians for the purpose in question. Why cannot a Conservative Government learn by experience? Why will not they allow us to try and help them to make this a real and complete measure? Parish Councils are as certain to come as any of the reforms of the future. Why, then, make two bites of the cherry? Better swallow the whole thing at once and establish the Parish Councils now for the purposes of this Bill. It, will be sooner over, and in the end there will be less sacrifice of principle. Nothing would give more satisfaction than the establishment of Parish Councils. There is no subject which in the last few years has advanced more steadily in public opinion than that of Parish Councils. They have the support—I do not say for this purpese—but they are supported for general purposes by all those sitting on this side of the House, including the Dissentient Liberals. They have the support of a great many Gentlemen sitting on the other side of the House. I think it was in the discussion upon the Allotments Act that the Member for South-East Essex said—Parish Councils are the ultimate solution of the allotment question.I have no doubt that is so, and that Parish Councils are the ultimate 635 solution of the small holdings question. They are supported by the Member for Midlothian, the Member for Newcastle, the Member for Derby, and by a gentleman who perhaps knows more about Local Government than anyone in this country — I mean Sir Charles Dilke. In 1885 he at Halifax, in speaking of the powers for acquiring land compulsorily for allotments or small holdings, said it was essential that power should be given to Parish Councils. Next day the Member for West Birmingham confirmed the views of Sir Charles Dilke, as part of the policy of the Radical Party and a plank in the unauthorised programme, and spoke of thoroughly popular Local Government in every village in connection with acquiring land. On the introduction by the President of the Local Government Board of the Allotments Bill two years ago, I moved a similar Instruction, which was only defeated by a small majority. I do not know what may be the result to-night, but since then the question has advanced more rapidly than any other question. I wish the Government would accept my Instruction; but if they cannot see their way to do so, let there be no mistake about the issue, which is whether Parish Councils shall or shall not be established for the purpose of giving the people in the villages a proper voice in the management of the most important of all their affairs, the acquisition for their own benefit of small portions of the land which they, by their labour, have rendered useful and productive.
§ MR. BRAND (Cambridge, Wisbech)
In rising to second the Instruction, I wish, as the Representative of an agricultural constituency, to say I am perfectly convinced that there is no question which exists among the rural communities of greater interest than the question of these small holdings, and of their local administration. In some counties like Norfolk the area under the control of the County Council for the purposes of the Local Government Act, 1888, is far too large, and it is perfectly impossible for these County Councils to discharge the duties arising in connection with the provision of small holdings to the benefit of those whom this Bill seeks to advantage. It 636 is essential that the land to be taken for this purpose should be suitable; should be in a proper situation, and that the tenants who are to occupy it should be worthy men. I am perfectly certain that if this Act is administered through a central authority at a distance the work will not be as well done as it would be done by Parish Councils working on the spot and knowing the peculiarities of the locality. The large landowners and large farmers who are numerously represented on the County Councils are strongly opposed to this proposal; and if the administration of this Act is given to them they will certainly not do their best to give effect to its spirit. Whilst I am of opinion that the administration of this measure should in the first instance be with the Parish Councils, I am perfectly well aware it is necessary that there should be a right of appeal to the County Council. There is under the Allotment Act an appeal to the Local Government Board, and in the same way a right of appeal should be given from the Parish Council to the County Council. Sir, the whole tendency of Local Government at the present day is towards decentralisation; and what harm can there be in taking away from the County Councils those duties which obviously they cannot properly perform and giving them to local representative bodies? The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division, in his speech upon the Second Reading of the Bill, said we on this side were disappointed because the credit of initiating the measure could not be claimed by us. For my part, I cordially congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture in going so far as to propose to institute small holdings, and I hope his effort will be successful. Speaking on behalf of a constituency that has as good if not better land than any other in England, I hold that there is a fair field for small holdings, and I feel that they will be taken up with avidity and worked with advantage to the country at large. I beg to second the Instruction.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert clauses
in the Bill creating Parish Councils by popular election for the purposes of the Bill, and conferring upon such Councils initiatory powers of acquiring, selling, letting, and managing land for small agricultural holdings."—(Mr. Cobb.)
§ *(9.16.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
The hon. Gentleman, in moving his Instruction, concluded his speech with a peroration intended for consumption outside. He tried to make this House believe that the question involved in this Instruction is whether the House generally agrees with the principle of Parish Councils or not.
§ * MR. LLEWELLYN
If the hon. Member imagines for a moment that it is possible in this Bill to introduce the question of Parish Councils, he is imagining what is an absolute impossibility. We are not called upon to speak on that point now; but I know of many parishes where Councils could be formed to do good work—I mean in parishes of sufficient size. I have tried to get some indication of what size the parishes should be capable of electing Councils. There is work that, in my opinion, could well be left to these Councils. I should like, for example, to see the care of the outdoor poor given to the parish. But the practical point I wish now to discuss is the financial part of this scheme, and I would ask if there is anybody who imagines that the Public Works Loan Commissioners or any other body would lend money to small parishes on such slender security as they could give? The Parish Council would meet in the schoolroom; it would be attended by 20 or 30 labourers; clerks would have to be appointed, a paid treasurer, an overseer, and assistant overseers.
§ * MR. LLEWELLYN
I dare say the hon. Member did. We have many of us devoted our lives to this question, and it is absurd for other hon. Members to come here to talk in an amateurish way, and to retail second-hand what they are told by other people. I had the honour of a seat on the Committee which inquired into this matter, 638 and my opinion is that unless the Treasury advances the money straight away there is no other body possible than the County Council. They must, of course, go to those on the spot for information. Under the Allotments Act, the Rural Sanitary Authority does not move one finger without consulting the parish, because the parish has to pay. I agree with the hon. Member that in purchasing the land for small holdings you must be dependent upon the parish for information. But the Bill will be inoperative if you leave it with the parish to carry out financial arrangements. They would not have the credit to carry it out. Our object is to make this Bill a practical measure, and to pass it in such a form that those whose duty it will be to carry it out will be able to do so successfully.
§ * MR. LEON (Bucks, N.)
As a new Member of the House, I ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes whilst I make a few observations upon a matter which is of great importance to a rural constituency. I am not going to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in his remarks as to the question of finance, for I distinctly understood the hon. Member below me (Mr. Cobb) to say that the County Council would have the control of the finance, and that the Parish Councils would merely have the duty of obtaining land for the rural labourers and others requiring it. It is, Sir, because I represent a constituency which is peculiarly interested in this very important question that I desire to say a few words. Parish Councils should be elected not only for the purposes under discussion to-night, but for many other purposes, and more especially to take up this Land Question for the benefit of those who desire land. Now, Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the object of the Instruction moved by the hon. Member for Rugby is to show that the unit of local government shall be the Parish, and not the County Council, and it is because I strongly favour this view that I support the Instruction. A Parish Council would know the requirements of the parish better than the County Council, such as whether the application for small holdings was bonâ fide; whether to 639 meet the demand by purchase or by hiring; where land was most suitable, having regard to the landlord's preferences and the tenant's or buyer's requirements; the nature and value of the land and its recent cultivation, and it could more easily, more satisfactorily, and more equitably estimate the outgoing tenant's compensation. It would also know how much land each applicant could properly cultivate, and would be in a position to know whether the land, after it had been acquired, was being economically and successfully managed. It would, besides, be better able to prevent, owing to its local knowledge, the foisting of any poor, exhausted land upon the parish by impecunious landlords at a price beyond its market value; it would always be available on the spot to hear disputes and applications, and to determine the many points that will necessarily arise as to the management of the land. The applicants or holders of the land would have no hesitation in approaching their representatives forming the Parish Councils and telling them any of their grievances. These are the chief reasons why I support the Instruction of my hon. Friend. Now, Sir, I believe everybody in this House is in favour of passing this Bill into law, in order that the people may more easily obtain land. But, as a business assembly, let us, in the name of common sense, see that, in passing legislation, we are, at the same time, erecting machinery that is suitable for the purpose we have in view. I maintain that the machinery introduced by the present measure is not the best machinery for the purpose. And why? Because County Councils, as at present elected and chosen, would be overloaded with the work which really ought not to be put upon them. Their areas, as my hon. Friend below me says, would be too large, and it would not be possible for them to do the work. I will read to the House what the Spalding Commissioners said on this Small Holdings Bill on Friday week last. The Commissioners said—They have decided to petition the Board of Agriculture and ask that the authority to enforce the Small Holdings Bill should be the Sanitary Authority in urban districts instead of the County Council, and the Board consider they would be better able to deal with the requirements of the town than the County Council would be.640 I quite agree with that. It shows, at any rate, that there is a decided opinion against the County Council being the body to administer this Act. In fact, speaking for the constituency which I have the honour to represent, I may say that they would be one and all—at any rate those who think the same as hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House—be very much in favour of having Parish Councils as the unit. Why should this House waste its time in passing a Bill into law which would be of no more use after it had been passed into law than the present Allotments Acts? And I maintain that these Acts are practically, to all intents and purposes, useless. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings) laughs. But that is no argument at all. Anybody can laugh, but that does not produce any effect upon individuals who are very much interested in this question. I have had some experience as a member of the County Council in Buckinghamshire as to the utility of the present Allotments Act, and the Chairman of the County Council on 11th February said—The difficulty of carrying out the Act of Parliament became more apparent the more they tried to act upon it.Well, what is the use of wasting the time of the House passing a Bill which will have no more effect than that? Does the Government mean business or does it not? If it does mean business, at any rate let it try to meet the requirements of the people by giving those people who are going to benefit by the Act of Parliament power to put the Act of Parliament into force themselves, and not give to an almost foreign element like the County Council in some rural district, as regards the minor requirements of the villages, the ultimate putting of this Act into force. That is the first practical step, and because I desire good results from our labours I heartily support this Instruction.
§ *(9.35.) MR. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
One remark of the hon. Member who has just sat down I quite agree with—namely, that the House should treat this question with common sense. But it appears to me, if we are to act in accordance with common sense, we must try not to put the cart before 641 the horse, but the horse before the cart. If we, in a Bill of this sort, go into such a difficult and intricate question as the appointment of Parish Councils, it will be a case of putting the cart before the horse. I appeal to my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and who values common sense so highly, to consider whether this is a question in which we should undertake to set up so far-reaching an authority as a Parish or District Council? The hon. Member told us the opinion of the County Council of Buckinghamshire. I remember a few weeks ago our Radical friends were trumpeting about the country the great victories they said they had gained at the County Council elections. Now we are told that these County Councils, which are formed so much of members of the Radical Party, are not to be entrusted with a matter of this sort, because they know nothing as to what should or should not take place in connection with country life and so on. But, surely, if the County Councils contain such a large number of thorough-going common-sense Radicals, hon. Members opposite might put more trust in these bodies than they seem inclined to give them this evening. I do not know whether the hon. Member who moved this Instruction has paid much attention to the provisions of the Bill, for it seems to me that there are great safeguards in this Bill for the interests of the rural population, or the labourers as they are called in the Bill, being properly attended to. In the first place, the County Council is popularly elected. No one can dispute that. I see from the Bill one or more persons can approach the County Council on the subject of small holdings. Do not you think that wise? If one or two of my neighbours can go to the County Council and request them to make a thorough inquiry as to whether or not there is a demand for action, I fail entirely to see that there is any just cause of complaint as to the machinery which is set up in this Bill. I would ask the hon. Member for Warwickshire how many people he would have approach the County Council on a matter of this sort?
§ * MR. GRAY
First of all I am dealing with the merits or demerits of the County Council, and I wish to say a word as to how the County Council can be approached. I would ask the hon. Member for Warwickshire whether he will find any fault with this part of the Bill which enables one or two men in any village to approach the County Council on the subject? Is that progressive or is it not? One villager or one labourer, however humble their positions, can approach the County Council on the subject. What fault have hon. Members opposite to find with that so far? I ask them again, is it not in accordance with common sense? And is there any reason to suppose that the County Council, having been approached by one or two labourers in this way, would hesitate for one moment to try and get all the local information they could get from the village or district whence those one or two persons came? I am not sure whether it would not be a fair amendment to bring before the House when we get into Committee that the County Council might have power, as to the Committee which is talked about in this Bill, to inquire whether or not that Committee must be entirely confined to members of the County Council. I am rather afraid, as the Bill now stands, the Committee which is talked about in this section must be confined to members of the County Council. But, whichever way that may be, it seems to me if any hon. Member, when we get into Committee, likes to move as an Amendment that this Committee, which is to be set up in certain circumstances should consist of one or more persons outside the body of the County Council, that, at any rate, would be a fair point of debate. But whether the County Council should do that or not, everyone knows that they could and would claim the advice of practical people living in the localities from which the demands came. Considering the formation of the County Council, considering that one or two persons from the village can go to the County Council and make a claim, considering that they can then set up a Committee to inquire into the demand, and considering that the County Council would naturally, before they said "Yes" or "No," get all the 643 evidence they possibly could from practical men and labourers in the district where the demand came from, is there any real and substantial grievance in the proposals of the Bill? I rather think that the real purpose of the Instruction is to enable the hon. Member who moved it and his friends to go down to their constituents and say—"We proposed you should have such and such powers, but, of course, the Conservative Party would not listen to it."
§ *(9.44.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
The hon. Member who has just sat down appears to think that there has been a want of common sense and common honesty in making the proposal now before the House, and he says the object of it is to enable the hon. Member who moved the Instruction and his friends to go to their constituents and say, "See what we offered you and what the Conservatives opposed." I should not call that straightforward conduct—it is such conduct as I have never practised, and the imputation of which I should resent either as regards myself or the hon Member who moved the Instruction or his friends. I think the House is indebted to the hon. Member, and I will say why. I can understand why Members of the Conservative Party should sneer at the action taken by Members on this side of the House upon this question, for they do not want it to be mooted. But our contention is that the only thoroughly sound and permanently satisfactory method of dealing with this question of allotments is the completion of our system of local government by the constitution of minor and subordinate areas within which such a measure could be brought into operation. Whose fault is it that we have not got those areas? The Government brought in a measure of Local Government in 1888, and carried it by the help of this side of the House, and they would not have carried it by the help of that side of the House alone. Does any Member venture to dispute it?
§ * MR. STANSFELD
Very well, I will take the word of my right hon. Friend, but I recollect perfectly his 644 own words on that occasion. Whatever doubts there may have been in his mind at first, he had seen reason to abandon them and to admit, as the Leader of his Party admitted, that he had received assistance from this side of the House in carrying that measure, and that he was indebted to us for our assistance.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Yes, Sir, I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but there is a vast difference between that statement and the statement he first made. I acknowledged thankfully then, as I do now, the assistance which the Government got from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in carrying that Bill; but I never said, and was very far from saying, that we could not have carried it without their assistance.
§ * MR. STANSFELD
I never accused the right hon. Gentleman of saying anything of the kind. I expressed my own opinion in that respect, and I did not presume to quote the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman. But I say, speaking my own opinion now, as I am entitled to do, that on those benches opposite there was very considerable opposition to the Bill; and the right hon. Gentleman admitted, as he says he did—and I do not mean to impute more—that he was indebted to us for our assistance in passing that measure. But as soon as he had passed the County Councils portion of the Bill, he dropped the rest, including District Councils, and all reference whatever to Parish Councils, or Parish Vestries, or any parish organisation. We appealed to him at the time to persevere and to have a little more patience and a little trust, saying, "We have supported you so far, and we will support you to the end;" but the right hon. Gentleman refused to do so. I am not blaming him for that, for these are questions of tactics, methods, and possibilities of time, and I have never doubted that he would have been glad to accept our offers of further assistance if he could have done so. As a matter of fact, however, he did not avail himself of them; and the Leader of the House at that time assured us that in the next Session, if possible, the subject should be taken up; but from 1888 until now—the last Session, in all probability, of this Parliament—no attempt 645 whatsoever has been made by the Government to complete the scheme of Local Government. I say that, under these circumstances, the hon. Member for the Rugby Division was perfectly justified, and more than justified, in bringing forward this question; and it is not fair to say, and there is no ground for saying, to him that this is a clumsy and awkward way of dealing with the subject by introducing the creation of popular Councils into an Allotments Bill, because he has been forced to the adoption of that method by the fact that the Government have not redeemed their promises, and have not created a Local Government hierarchy which would have been sufficient, in his view, for the purpose. Mr. Speaker, permit me, in order that there may be no mistake so far as I can prevent it, to state what are our views, and I believe I can interpret them with fair accuracy, upon this subject generally. We hold that the County Council is the wrong authority for administering a Small Holdings Act, and I therefore cannot agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite that the County Council is the right authority, if you can have a choice of authorities in this matter. I am a member of a County Council. My County Council in Sussex is a thoroughly business Council, and I have a high respect for it; for we do not waste our time in speeches, but devote it to the transaction of business. I believe that Council would itself feel that it was not the fittest body for the administration of such an Act as this. The distance of the place of meeting from the outlying parishes of the county is a very serious fact, and want of local knowledge is another. It is perfectly true you may get that knowledge by deputy, but that is not the best way of getting knowledge, or of applying it. Is it not evident that the best way of dealing with the subject is to begin with the small area, and constitute an authority for the small area if you can, so that you may have the initiative based on local knowledge of the wants of the people, the character of applicants for small holdings, and the nature of the soil and its adaptability to the wants of the people who wish to occupy it, and the price which ought to be paid for it? Such a body should take the initiative, and leave 646 the higher authority of the district, or the County Council, to judge of the financial proceedings. An hon. Gentleman sitting opposite to me said that the parish would have no credit; but I cannot admit that proposition, because a parish has credit and does raise loans.
§ * MR. STANSFELD
In that I should entirely agree. We all agree that the smaller parishes should be amalgamated, and I have always said that some of these parishes would be too small for representative bodies, and I should prefer open Vestries, with power of appointing committees if the work would be better done by committees than by the Vestries themselves. I say, therefore, that you should take the Parish Council as the unit of local authority, and give it the initiative in dealing with this subject of allotments. It is stated that it must be financed by the County Council, but the County Council would hesitate to finance it if it had got no credit. Has that never occurred to the hon. Gentleman opposite? I do not believe that it would be felt to be the duty of County Councils to finance small and poor parishes which have no credit. Well, suppose you begin with the parish, largely interpreted as I have endeavoured to interpret it, there are certain things which must be borne in mind. There must be, first of all, an appeal for those who want allotments when the Parish Authorities refuse to obtain them; and there must also be an appeal for the landowner or farmer to some superior County Authority against the Parochial Authority. If the Parish Council from personal or Party motives should make victims of the landowners or the farmers, and take land from them when land could be taken elsewhere with greater fairness which was as fit for the purpose, I should say that would be an ill deed on the part of the Parochial Council, against which there ought to be an appeal to some superior County Body. All I maintain is that the principle should be accepted that the small area is a fit area for the administration of the Act, and, therefore, I hold that my hon. Friend has done good service in bringing this question before the House. The true remedy, in my opinion, and in our 647 opinion on this side of the House, is the completion of the system of Local Government. As soon as you have a hierarchy including the parish, the district, and the County Council, you will have no difficulty whatever in taking the initiative steps, and you will have no difficulty in securing an appeal from the Parish Council, it may be, to the next grade, or straight to the County Council. At any rate, you will have the whole arrangement devised, constructed, and existing under which you may proceed with the greatest facility. We have been told it is impossible and absurd to attempt to set up Parish Councils in this Bill. I do not say it is easy; but again, I ask, whose fault is that? As I said before, it is not the fault of my hon. Friend, who makes the best of circumstances, and proposes to devise Parish Councils for this purpose. I do not believe you will say that it would be impossible to do so, and I do not think it would be very difficult to do so. It only requires patience to discuss clauses to carry it out, and that patience would not be wanting on this side. I think it is a fair proposal which might well be considered by the Government. I hope I have succeeded in showing that we have had a ground for the course which has been taken, and that the best possible method would be the perfection of that system of Local Government towards which we have been looking vainly for so long, and that, if practicable, it would be well worth while, even at this moment, to attempt an instalment of that future perfection by the construction of Parish Councils, which should have the administration of these allotments.
§ *(10.2.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
I rise, Sir, for the purpose of pouring oil on the troubled waters, and I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman displayed somewhat unnecessary heat with regard to the hon. Member for Essex (Mr. Gray), who said nothing to deserve the attack made upon him. The right hon. Gentleman complained altogether of the authority which is proposed for the purpose of carrying out this Bill. He says that an authority presiding as it does over so large an area is quite unfit for 648 the purposes and duties with which it is to be entrusted. That, of course, Sir, is an opinion which the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to hold; we are also entitled to ours; and having given some thought to the subject, we have arrived at the definite conclusion that, under present circumstances, the County Council is the proper authority. But the right hon. Gentleman was not satisfied with that; he proceeded to attack my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie), because these authorities were not already in existence; and "whose fault was that?" said the right hon. Gentleman, shaking his finger at my right hon. Friend. My recollection is that the Local Government Bill which my right hon. Friend introduced made ample provision for the creation of Local Authorities other than County Councils; and if the right hon. Gentleman will carry his recollection back to the torrent of eloquence on every conceivable subject from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on that side during that Session, I do not think he will find much difficulty in discovering the reasons which compelled my right hon. Friend, towards the close of the Session, greatly to his regret and to the annoyance of the Government to which he belonged, to drop these clauses for the purpose of carrying his Bill. I think the right hon. Gentleman is treading on somewhat dangerous ground when he asks whose fault it is that these authorities are not in existence already; for, unless my memory greatly deceives me, the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a most distinguished Member year after year, and three years in succession, announced its intention, in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, to introduce and carry measures for this purpose, and I am unable to recollect that it ever took a single step to give effect to that promise. Now, Sir, I pass from the right hon. Gentleman—I hope I have said nothing unfair in reply to his observations—to the subject more immediately before the House.
§ MR. STANSFELD
Nothing unfair at all. But if I may be allowed to correct the right hon. Gentleman, the only part I had in the matter was the 649 passing of the first of an intended series of measures—a Rating Bill. I had no chance of doing anything more.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman was a Member of the Government which at that time made the promises and failed to carry them out.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
Then I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman; I thought he was a distinguished Member of every Liberal Government since I have been a Member of this House. I think it is unnecessary to point out to the House that it did not even need the speech of the hon. Gentleman who made the Motion to show quite clearly to the House what its effect must necessarily be. It deals with a question which I acknowledge is extremely important, but a question which is entirely separated from the measure immediately before the House. What the hon. Gentleman proposes and asks the House to embark upon at this moment is another and a most important step, a further and large development of local self-government. That is a question on which everybody knows the views of the present Administration, because my right hon. Friend at the Local Government Board has on one occasion—and, I think, on more than one occasion—in this House announced the intention of the Government, on a proper and fitting occasion, when opportunity arises, to deal not only with the question of District Councils, but the question also of parochial reform. But I think it must be evident that the Government, whether it be Liberal or Tory, must decide, and they alone, what is to be the order of their business, and which kind of business is to take precedence over the other. As regards the Instruction of the hon. Member, I am bound to say it is not a question which ought to be tacked on as a kind of offshoot to another proposal entirely different from it, such as that which I have had the honour to introduce to the House, and which would, in my judgment, if we accepted the Motion, be entirely swamped by it before the end of the Session. I am not going to make any reflections on the hon. Gentleman or his intentions, 650 but it must at least be evident to the House that he knows perfectly well that the subject with which he asks us to deal and to tack on to this measure is one of enormous dimensions. We have absolute proof of his views before us at this moment, because he has himself introduced a Bill on the subject. I have looked at this Bill, and I see that the acquisition and sale of land in small portions is dealt with; but the hon. Gentleman found it so large and intricate a subject that he has been obliged to devote 41 or 42 clauses to the consideration of the subject. The Bill which I have introduced to the House for the provision of small holdings is, comparatively speaking, the most modest measure in the world; it contains only 18 clauses altogether. Then the hon. Member, by way of lending most able assistance in the matter which I have so much at heart, comes forward with his proposal which involves the addition to my Bill of a measure containing no less than 40 clauses. The hon. Member has not had a very long experience of this House, but he has been a Member long enough to know that the way to get a Bill passed through the House is not to encumber it with an enormous addition of that nature. As to what may be the hon. Gentleman's views with regard to the Small Holdings Bill I offer no opinion; but it is a measure which I am sincerely desirous and anxious to pass into law, and on that ground alone I am afraid I must oppose the proposal of the hon. Member. As to the merits of the question of Parish Councils being more appropriate for dealing with such a measure, it is not necessary now to enter, but my hon. Friend behind me spoke of some difficulties connected with finance. The hon. Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Cobb) proposes, so far as I understand, that the County Council should finance the Councils and raise money on the county or parish rate just as they please. How much are they to raise? Does he agree with the limit of one penny which is proposed in the Bill, or is he prepared to go a good deal further? I think the ratepayers of Warwickshire will probably be glad to know something more of the hon. Member's opinion on this point. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is perfectly well aware that a penny 651 rate on a parish would be utterly use less for carrying out the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to go to the extent of an addition of 1s., 2s. 6d., or even 5s. to the parish rate—
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
The hon. Member forgets the rate is to be given as the security. I expect the ratepayers of Warwickshire would have a great deal more to say on the subject if I were to accept the Instruction of the hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman opposite expressed the opinion that the true remedy, and the only real remedy, for the position in which we are placed, and of which he complains at the present moment, is to complete the whole system of local self-government throughout the country. Does he wish us to postpone this measure till that is done? That is the real question we have to decide to-night. The right hon. Gentleman evidently thinks that this Bill, which has been read a second time, ought now to be laid aside, and that we should embark on fresh legislation for the purpose of completing the system of local self-government. That is his view and opinion, shared, I suppose, by hon. Gentlemen sitting behind him. Our opinion on this side is exactly the opposite. We say that we have introduced this measure, and we fully intend to carry it through before the end of the Session. I most earnestly desire to see it carried to a successful conclusion, and I must, therefore, absolutely resist the proposal, which, if we accepted it, would have only one effect—perhaps not so openly, but quite as effectually—to utterly destroy the chance of passing the Bill.
§ * MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) said he rose with the object of "pouring oil on the troubled waters," but I think he must have exhausted his stock of that article in the rural conferences he has recently been attending. I see that when he spoke at Ely he said that there was a difficulty in discovering any difference of view between the two political Parties on this subject of Parish Councils. We are beginning, however, to find that after all there is a very considerable 652 difference. I complain of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has misrepresented—if I may say so—the whole meaning of the Instruction of the hon. Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Cobb). He will find, if he reads it, that my hon. Friend does not mean anything of the kind that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. He desires that solely for the purposes of this Act some parish authority shall be created to co-operate with the County Council in carrying out the Act; and if hon. Members will refer to Clause 16 of the Bill they will find that when the right hon. Gentleman comes to deal with the Commissioners for Scotland he actually does go a considerable way towards meeting the very demand which we now make. So far as rural England is concerned, any parish authority or any parish right of enforcing or administering or even of initiating the Act is conspicuous by its absence. But the moment he deals with Radical Scotland and finds he has to go a step further he give a little more scope to popular authority, and there it is provided that the Committee of the County Council appointed under this Bill shall necessarily, not merely permissively, consist of the County Councillor representing the division, two other members of the County Council, and two independent persons who are not members of the County Council, but are elected by the district in accordance with the regulation. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, in his desire to pour oil on the troubled waters, to concede something as liberal to England as he gives to Scotland. If he had one that he would have gone a long way to meet the wishes of Members on this side of the House. We warned the Government over and over again over the Allotments Act that Boards of Guardians were utterly useless to carry out any legislation for the labourers. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are very fond of telling us that we know nothing at all about this question. I see that the Times of this morning congratulates hon. Members opposite on having all the knowledge on this rural question, while we on this side of the House, I suppose, are carpet baggers, and know nothing about it. We may have lived all our lives in the country, 653 and be merely transplanted in our old age to London; our whole lives may have been spent in observation of agricultural questions, but if we are not large landowners, with large rent rolls, we are told that we know nothing about the wants of the agricultural labourers and agricultural questions. The Government scoffed at our warning when we told them that the machinery of the Allotments Act was useless, and they have had to change it. We warn them now that though the County Councils are a better machinery than the Boards of Guardians, yet that they must somehow or other get into touch with the parish, and if you do not accept our warning you will assuredly have to come to Parliament (if you are still on those Benches) for power to alter your authority. If you have all the knowledge you have no excuse. You know what the people want. You were told that at the Ely and Shrewsbury conferences. You had it dinned into your ears over and over again that the people want Parish Councils.
§ * MR. WINTERBOTHAM
I will undertake to find in the newspapers the records of half-a-dozen agricultural labourers, who got up and said boldly, undeterred by the Peers and landowners, they wished for Parish Councils.
§ * MR. WINTERBOTHAM
I do not know about the other side. I am speaking of the utterances of the few genuine agricultural labourers whom you imported into your conferences. We have told you frequently that we will never be satisfied until there is an initiative in a popularly elected Parish Council, and if you choose to leave with us the task of crowning the edifice, which you are so worthily beginning, it will be to our Party advantage, and to your Party loss. No one has ever suggested that Parish Councils should have the power of borrowing public money on their own initiative. It is only suggested that they should have the power to lay before the County Council their requirements, and the Council, if they approve, and after full examination, should borrow the money, and that, I think, is perfectly safe and 654 reasonable. But we are continually told that we have got Parish Councils; that there are the Vestries who will be able to approach the County Council on the matter. Approach; yes, you can call spirits from the vasty deep, but will they come? You must remember that the County Councils are told by your Bill to decide in the first instance whether the Act is to be put in force at all in their county or whether it is not; and if a County Council decides that it will have none of your Act, what then becomes of the approach of the parish, with whom we wish the initiative to lie? What guarantee have we that the County Councils will not take this course? I think from what we already see the inference is that some of them will. I do not agree that this Instruction of my hon. Friend raises the whole question of Parish Councils. We shall raise it before long, but we do not raise it to-night. We are most certainly going to raise the whole question in the near future, but all we ask you to do to-day is to take Clause 16 of your own Bill as your model, and give us some authority other than the County Council which should make use of the knowledge, and give utterance to local aspirations and local needs of the poor labourers for whom you say your Bill is intended.
§ (10.25.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
The question we have to consider is what will be the best for the rural population in carrying out this Bill. Then we have to consider whether the proposition of the hon. Member for Rugby can be carried out with safety to the passing of this Bill, and whether if carried it will be good or bad for the rural population whom this Bill proposes to benefit. The right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) spoke very warmly about the completion of county government, but he knows the time that that subject will take, and I wish to know whether he would postpone this Small Holding legislation till this great scheme is completed? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) made one statement which made me think he had not studied the Bill. He stated that a County Council would charge a parish for the sums spent in the parish and debit it to a small area. 655 The Bill expressly says that the cost shall fall on the entire community, and if hon. Members wish this Instruction for Parish Councils to be carried out and with it the financial liability, they will strike a great blow at the poorer districts. I was agreeably surprised to find that Her Majesty's Government has been so liberal. They are more liberal than Members on this side of the House; they are not creating a sort of Newcastle programme, but a practical measure. I think a feature of this Bill, which calls for special commendation, is that which uses the credit of the whole county for the benefit of the poor districts. If they relied on their own credit they could not get the money, and I would ask the hon. Member for Rugby how he could expect to borrow money if he said he was only liable for the deficiency. I am astonished at the crude proposals of the hon. Member for Rugby, and it seems to me that the 9th clause provides, at all events, something of what he wants. I think, first of all, it is impossible if we do carry this Bill through that such great proposals can be embodied by means of a few clauses in a Bill dealing with an altogether different question; when we know by this Debate, and by the Debate of last year, what a complicated difficult question it is. And then, forsooth, we are to take that difficult question and graft it by means of a few clauses on a Small Holdings Bill. Therefore, the hon. Member for Rugby said, "Let us but consider what the issue is." According to his mind it is for or against Parish Councils. But let us also see what the issue is. The issue is a Small Holdings Bill or no Small Holdings Bill; the issue is whether we shall take this Small Holdings Bill with the only authority available at the present moment, or whether we shall seek to introduce clauses which cannot possibly be carried; and so by a side-wind to kill the Bill. And I venture to say with all respect—I say it with great respect, because I am anxious in the interests of the labourers to get this Bill—and I say, what the hon. Member for Rugby will not deny, that if this Instruction is forced on the Government, I challenge any Member on this side to deny that the Bill will have to be dropped for this Session at least. Even if it were to be carried, I suppose 656 a Boundary Commission would have to be set to work to re-arrange the parishes, and the County Councils would take at least a couple of years before that could be done. Altogether it is a separate, a distinct, and a great question, this county government; but a question altogether separate and apart from the question we are considering. I have always been for Parish Councils for certain things which I know perfectly well they can do; but there are certain things which I know it is impossible for them to do. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax will admit that Parish Councils are not good for sanitary matters; the area is not large enough. I have studied closely Communal Parochial Councils as we may call them, and the result of their sanitary arrangements has been such that it can only be paraphrased as the nastiest business that you can find in all Christendom. Only last year I was in Switzerland where I saw two parishes in one of the Communes at law. One of them positively stopped up the whole of the outlet of the drainage of the neighbouring parish; and there was no possible exit for it until the question between the two parishes was settled. I am aware that there are a number of things which could be appropriately managed by Parish Councils, but sanitary matters are not of the number. If you wanted a warning you might take the School Boards. If you want to find defective schools, where the Board of Management have only one idea, that of keeping down the rates, and where they care nothing for education, go into the School Boards of small parishes, and you will find there that it is an area too small for the management of that particular business. As sanitation, so education, and I venture to say if there is one question more than another that is not for the benefit of the number to be benefited, that is not suitable for the small area of parishes, it is the question of small holdings. Allotments are different things altogether, because you only want a few acres of land for allotments. Here you want large areas to cut up into farms up to 50 acres in extent, and therefore it is in a very different category. I am very anxious for the sake of the labourers that we should not 657 create this difficulty in the way of the carrying out of this Bill. Take the size of the parishes; take the hon. Member's own county of Warwick. There is one Union, and I notice that of 22 parishes 13 of them are under 500 inhabitants, nine under 300, and five under 100, and some of them as low as 58 persons. Well, the rateable value in some of these parishes is under £500, whereas the rateable value of the whole Union is above £100,000, and I want to use the credit of the wealthier area for the benefit of the smaller areas. If you take Wilts, for instance, you will find in one Union, where there are 30 parishes, 18 are under 500 population, 14 are under 300 population, and four under 100 population. And so, if you go through all the agricultural counties, you will find the same result. Now, I do not anticipate that there is a difficulty in grouping parishes, but if you group them sufficiently you come into District Councils, and there is no difference between the Government and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax. What he has alluded to is the avowed object of the Government, which I hope, in the interest of county government, will be carried out; but if we have to wait for this plain and simple Small Holdings Bill till we see that carried out, why we shall have indefinitely to postpone the realisation for a Small Holdings Bill at all. I am anxious to get a Small Holdings Bill, and I will tell my hon. Friend why: Because if we do not get it now, I am not sure when we are going to get it. I am pretty certain we shall get reform in county government complete in itself, some time, but I am not sure when we shall get a Small Holdings Bill. There is no doubt this Small Holdings Bill will disappear if this is fastened on to it; and all the country will see how impossible it would be to carry through a great Bill if something foreign to it is to be fastened on to it. Therefore, I am anxious this Session to see passed this Small Holdings Bill. After waiting so many years for this legislation, now that we have got it at our doors I am afraid hon. Members are so fond of it that they are going to smother it in their embraces. I am aware that the wish for Local Government, District Coun- 658 cils, and parochial reform, which is in the immediate programme of the Government, could have been realised last year or the year before; but that has not been done, and it is evident, if we listen to right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who are in such a hurry for a Dissolution, we shall not be able to get it this year. But the Members of the Government have already announced their intention, and it has not been carried out. With regard to the previous Government, for three several years the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, the House will remember, had a Bill down for the reform of county government; and he was unable to find time to do anything with it. The present Government, at any rate, has done the big frame work—the top and most important part of it—that is a very good beginning; call it foundation if you like. But it seems to me that it is the very biggest measure of administrative reform that we have seen in this generation. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Rugby, and I think my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Winterbotham), and one or two other speakers, criticise these County Councils, and say they were not going to do anything—that they were not going to adopt this, that, and the other. What has become of your popular representation, your household franchise, and vote by ballot? The complaint really is that the people do not return the men that hon. Members would like. In the interest of the labouring population, and for the sake of getting this Bill, and being anxious not to see it defeated by a side wind, while being quite in favour of Parish Councils for doing the work for which Parish Councils are fitted, I shall vote against this Resolution.
§ *(10.43.) SIR W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
Some of us are equally anxious, with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that this Bill should be made into the best possible Bill for the rural population; and when the hon. Member asks the question what good the introduction of parishes into this Bill could do, I have no hesitation in answering him that, in my opinion, the introduction of parishes in some form 659 or other would be the best thing that could be done for the labouring poor in the rural districts. We believe that the parishes would know a larger amount about the needs of the population, about the character of the applicants, and about the lands that they would be placed upon, than any body sitting at a distance such as the County Councils. We do not propose by this Instruction to force on the right hon. Gentleman who has charge of the Bill, the re-organisation of the whole structure of parish government. But we do ask him to have some power given to the parishes in the initiation of the working of this Act; and my hon. Friend who has moved this Instruction has specially put in the word "initiatory," in order that it may indicate that it has been our wish that the parish should perform nothing more than an initiatory act in introducing benefits which this Bill was intended to confer on the labouring population of the rural districts. The hon. Member has also referred to this Motion as one intended to postpone or retard the passage of the Bill. It seems to me to be better sometimes to postpone or retard the passage of a Bill than to pass a Bill that will not work when it is passed. The House may recollect that in the case of the Allotments Bill the same kind of language was used in the same quarter. Then the question was: an Allotments Bill or no Allotments Bill? We got the Allotments Act, and what was the result of it? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had to bring in another Act to try and make the first Act work. We do not want the Small Holdings Act to be in the same position. We want to have it put in the best possible form at the earliest stage, in order that we may be in a better position to bring home to the rural population the benefits contemplated in the Bill. In this Bill the House has an important extension of the Allotments Act. The best portion of the Bill is that which creates the holdings from one to ten acres. What I am most anxious about is that this Bill should be made as effective as possible in the interests of the rural population, and to accomplish this the body to be charged with the carrying out of the Bill should be 660 in sympathy with the rural population. The Rural Sanitary Authorities have shown their unwillingness to carry out the Allotments Act. It is for this reason that we desire to bring the parishes into the working of this measure, and it would become far more acceptable and useful if the right hon. Gentleman would consent to the present Instruction. It is, we believe, the only way in which the Bill can be made workable.
§ Question put.
§ (10.48.) The House divided:—Ayes 151; Noes 178.—(Div. List, No. 67.)
§ (10.57.) MR. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)
, in rising to move—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have powers to insert Clauses in the Bill providing that, on the petition of any Urban Sanitary Authority, or of the Vestry of a rural parish, or of Vestries of two or more rural parishes jointly, to the Council of the County within which the district of such Urban Sanitary Authority, or such rural parish or parishes, is or are situate, such County Council may make an order empowering such Urban Sanitary Authority, Vestry, or Vestries, to exercise powers of acquiring, selling, letting, and managing land for Small Agricultural Holdings by voluntary arrangement with the owners thereof, subject to approval by the County Council,said: My Motion is a very different one to that which has just been decided, and it is of a much more modest character. For some days past there has been on the Paper a new clause which set forth fully and precisely the machinery by which I propose to carry out my Instruction. The object I have in view does not go beyond the scope of the Bill, and the machinery to carry it out does not displace any portion of the arrangements of the Bill as it now stands. My suggestion, if adopted, would merely provide additional resources to those existing in the Bill; the machinery to give effect to it would be wholly at the discretion of the County Councils to adopt, reject, or ignore as they think best. It seems to me that the machinery of the Bill is placed on the top, whereas, in my opinion, it should be incorporated and developed more symmetrically throughout its framework. The authority of the County Council is too remote. My own experience of the Middlesex County Council is that, although there are a large demand for allotments, it 661 has been only lately that an Allotments Committee has been formed. The Committee has not yet met, and there has not been any application made to it on behalf of the labourers. Therefore, I submit that there should be an authority of some kind created which would enable the inhabitants to take counsel together, to shape their proposals, and to gather confidence, an element which is essential for the carrying out of the important proposals contained in this Bill. There are many of the inhabitants whose life-acquired knowledge will be available, and that will go far towards facilitating and cheapening the arrangements that would have to be made under the Bill. We know very well that this measure has proceeded from an anxiety to arrest the depopulation from the rural districts. The Bill has been described as an experiment; but it is the kind of experiment having for its object the providing of land for the rural population and the arrest of the rural depopulation; and unless we are successful on this occasion, there will no doubt be throughout the country a strong feeling of despondency. My proposal is, shortly, this: to enable parishioners to meet in Vestry; then they would make a proposal to the County Council, which the County Council would consider; and if they thought the proposal was reasonable in itself and a business-like proposal, they would delegate it to the Urban Authority or the Parish Committee. Then the Parish Committee would shape the scheme definitely and would bring it up to the County Council, where it would be considered at a meeting, notice of which had been given by advertisement 21 days previously, so as to invite objections and to secure these objections being properly considered before the County Council gave its sanction to the scheme. That would be a complete safeguard to the persons affected, as the whole thing would be relegated to the County Council for their sanction and approval; and, after hearing them, the County Council would sanction and confirm. Then, Sir, I provide that if the Parish Committee did not acquire the land within twelve months, or if in any way they did not appear properly to carry out the duties entrusted to them, it is reserved to the County Council to revoke their Order, and that 662 any property acquired shall revert to the County Council themselves. And I propose—and this is one of the chief points of difference between myself and the hon. Member for the Rugby Division—I propose that the County Councils should be elected by an open meeting of the inhabitants interested. I am most impressed with that form of Local Government not only as having endured longest, but as having been the most successful of any which this country has seen. Another point of difference is, that I think the Parish Committee should not be elected for a fixed term, but only until their successors are appointed. In a small parish, where everybody knows everybody else, it is preposterous that the parishioners should be asked to surrender their discretion, their judgment, their rights, and their liberties to the Parish Councils for the long term of three years. I think that great danger would be likely to arise, especially in small parishes, from the arbitrary nature of the control that might arise. This is the most important, as it ought to be one of the most popular, of the safeguards. But they would have a great deal of unpaid service and service on the spot without circumlocution, which would surely enable them to do the work cheaper, and they would be able to do much of it more efficiently and with greater satisfaction than a distant authority which must act through a large number of officials who would have no direct interest, whereas the inhabitants of the parish would have an immediate interest. In time the County Council might become a large landlord of petty holdings. By my plan no doubt the parish would have to pay, but it would get something in return for the payment. In the scheme as it stands under the Bill parishes will have to pay, but they will get nothing in return for the payment. The parishes themselves will do as they used to do in olden times—seek their own connection from those natural conditions which incline them to seek to act together. It has been said that with a penny rate very little could be done. But, as the money can go further, the parish, so far as its resources are concerned, will get more for its money. 663 The average rateable value of a parish in Lincolnshire is £4,000, and a penny rate will supply 20 labourers with an acre each, or 40 with half an acre each. As the object of the Bill is to arrest the depopulation of the rural districts, I submit that the best way to arrive at that end is to fix the labourer upon the soil as a freeholder. It is only by diffusing the benefits of the Bill as widely as possible amongst the labouring population that the desired end can be obtained. I beg to move the Instruction which stands in my name.
§ (11.23.) CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
In seconding this Instruction I would like to say that my hon. Friend who has moved the Instruction is not sufficiently sanguine. He suggested that the President of the Board of Agriculture is not likely to accept the suggestion, but I still hope the right hon. Gentleman may see his way to do so. My primary object in supporting the proposal is, I believe, somewhat different from that of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. I look forward primarily to this; if we can create some machinery by which parishes can acquire small quantities of land, a time not in the very distant future, will come when parishes will become possessed of the fee-simple of the land, and where the land will become a property which the parish can use for the benefit of the inhabitants. Objection has been taken that the parish will not be able to manage the financial part of the arrangement, but I am inclined to think there is no reason why the parish should not be able to manage its own finance. At the same time, I think the action of the parish should be submitted to the County Council for approval. Secondly, I think that the parish, ruling as it does over a smaller area, would be a body much more fitted for taking over and dealing with small quantities of land. I wish it to be understood that this is merely a supplemental proposal. The County Council will retain its concurrent power. I certainly entertain a sanguine hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture will be disposed to view this proposal favourably.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert Clauses in the Bill providing that, on the petition of any urban sanitary authority, or of the vestry of a rural parish, or of the vestries of two or more rural parishes jointly, to the council of the county within which the district of such urban sanitary authority, or such rural parish or parishes, is or are situate, such county council may make an order empowering such urban sanitary authority, vestry, or vestries, to exercise powers of acquiring, selling, letting, and managing land for Small Agricultural Holdings by voluntary arrangement with the owners thereof, subject to approval by the county council."—(Mr. Stephens.)
§ (11.30.) MR. W. B. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
The hon. Member who submitted this Instruction to the House was prudently anxious—and I find no fault with him on that account—to clear himself from any suspicion of complicity with those who sit on this side of the House in reference to the present Bill. He stated that his proposal was a more modest one than the proposal which had just been rejected, and I entirely agree with the hon. Member that his plan is quite distinct from our plan, for we reluctantly have arrived at the conclusion that no plan can be made thoroughly effective without introducing into it the element of compulsion. The hon. Member does not introduce the element of compulsion in any form into his plan, and he therefore vindicates his own character and his political orthodoxy by showing that he is not in the ranks of those dangerous politicians who sit on this side of the House. The question I now have to ask myself is not whether we can give up portions of our own distinctive plan in order to agree with the hon. Member, but whether, supposing our plan to be rejected, the Bill will be improved by the adoption of the plan of the hon. Gentleman. Now I have in my mind the melancholy anticipation that our proposition will be rejected by one of those commanding majorities such as was announced a short time ago. Therefore it is our duty as men of sense, if we have any sense, to look this question in the face, and to consider it as a man does when he has presented to him the alternatives of half a loaf or no bread. The hon. Gentleman fairly offers us half a loaf. I see no objection to the introduction of the voluntary plan of the hon. 665 Gentleman. The proposal I think does credit to him, and so far as I understand the development he has given to it in the clauses appearing on the Paper it fully sustains the spirit of the proposal itself. If we adhere to the principle of compulsion, it is not for any love of compulsion—it is from the somewhat sorrowful conviction that there are so many landlords in the country who are absent, who are ignorant or indifferent, or who are opposed to the objects we have in view, that we do not see that we can dispense with it. I, for one, entirely meet the hon. Gentleman on the ground that, so far as the voluntary principle will carry us, by all means let us act upon it. Now let us look at the proposition of the hon. Member. As I understand the matter, there are three points which are considered to be of vital importance by the great bulk of those who occupy these Benches. One of these is the establishment of Parish Councils, meaning by Parish Councils Councils which are essentially local bodies—essentially local—and having local information, as contradistinguished from bodies acting for the entire county. The second element in our plan is the point of compulsion, and the third point, and perhaps the most important of the three, and certainly in my view not the least important, is the introduction of a tenure less than a freehold. Now the hon. Member adheres to the voluntary principle, but distinctly he introduces two points for the attainment of which we on this side of the House are most anxious, and I cannot help cherishing the hope that to these points Her Majesty's Government may not be inclined to entertain any vital objection. The first of these is that there shall be some description of initiatory power given to bodies who shall be on the spot and well acquainted with the circumstances of the spot, so as to know who are the persons needing small holdings, who are the persons most competent to take them, and qualified by honesty, solvency, and character to make a good use of them. That is a knowledge which can only be possessed by persons on the spot, and the hon. Gentleman frankly makes us this offer by saying that the County Council may, on the application of the Sanitary Autho- 666 rity or Vestry, authorise the putting in motion such bodies possessed of local information and local experience. Then the hon. Member not only does this, but he adopts our view in all its breadth that a tenure inferior to freehold must be introduced into the Bill if it is to be made a Bill of any real value. As a Bill for the creation of a class of small freeholders I understand and appreciate it, and within its narrow limitations it will be of some value. I do not in any way desire to depreciate it in that direction, but it is not a Labourers' Bill. It should be called a Small Freeholders' Bill, not a Small Holdings Bill, for it contemplates no other small holders than freeholders. Let it not be supposed that we in any way grudge this creation of small freeholds, but these freeholds are unattainable to the great mass of the labouring population. Attainable they may be to certain favoured individuals in a village community—the village carpenter, the blacksmith, or other tradesman; the head keeper, the head gardener, or other head servants of the neighbouring landlord. To all of these the offer of a small freehold may be valuable, but to the labourer struggling to maintain his family from week to week upon the wage of the week the offer is almost illusory unless some inferior tenure to freehold be introduced. The hon. Gentleman proposes that the County Council may give power to an Urban Sanitary Authority or Vestry to acquire, sell, let and manage land for small agricultural holdings, so that under the ægis of the voluntary principle the hon. Member offers us these most valuable, most essential objects, and why should these objects be opposed by Her Majesty's Government? Surely they must agree that what we want is to give a personal and profitable interest in the land to as many as possible of the rural population who are solvent, respectable, and capable of using small holdings to their own advantage. Why should Her Majesty's Government object to the proposal? Had it come from us I admit it might have been considered open to suspicion; but coming as it does from their own supporters who have both recommended it in speeches couched in a spirit of comprehensive intelligence, I cannot 667 abandon the hope that Her Majesty's Government will be inclined to entertain the proposal with favour. Though the hon. Gentleman has expressed a desire that his proposal may not be associated with that which has been made by us, I venture to assure him that I shall certainly give a hearty vote in favour of his Motion, and I would cordially advise anyone who is at all inclined to listen to me to do the same.
§ *(11.40.) MR. CHAPLIN
If I had been more favourably disposed to this proposal than I am, I own that my suspicions would have been at once aroused by the extreme cordiality with which it has been received by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not quite understand why he dwelt so much on the new form of tenure he says the Instruction will import into the Bill. I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman there. I do not think he is correct in saying that; because, although it is true that the Instruction refers to the power of acquiring, selling, letting, and managing land for small agricultural holdings, that power of letting is not excluded from the Bill now before us. One of the main objects of the Government has been to create an additional number of freeholds, and we adhere to that; but in regard to the letting of land, that is also provided for by clauses in the Bill, and whether it is desirable to extend those clauses or to keep them as they are is matter for consideration in Committee. I listened closely to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved this Instruction, and, as I understand, what he proposes is this: that a County Council shall be enabled to give power to an urban Sanitary Authority, to a Vestry or Vestries, to exercise powers referred to by voluntary arrangement with the owner of the land. But I am bound to say I fail to perceive exactly what it is the hon. Member expects to gain, what advantage he expects will be derived from these additional powers. Anybody in any county can petition the County Council for a small holding, and thereupon the County Council is bound, if it supposes the Petition is made in good faith, to appoint a Committee, and that Committee is bound to make inquiry into the merits of the question. The hon. Gentleman said, from his experience, that these Committees 668 authorised under the Allotments Act had never been appointed; but, if I remember rightly, the power in those cases is entirely permissive; but here in this Bill it is laid down distinctly that the County Council shall appoint a Committee and shall cause an inquiry to be made. The hon. Member says it is not the right way to go to work; but I question exceedingly whether the procedure he recommends will be any benefit at all in that direction. The hon. Member gives power to a County Council to delegate its powers to an urban Sanitary Authority or to a Parish Committee, a Committee for a parish or a group of parishes to be elected by the Vestry; but I do not remember that there is any machinery provided for this election. But if the powers to be conveyed to the Committee are not used, if the land is not acquired, all these powers are to be immediately revoked. On the other hand, if the powers are used, if the land is required, the County Council, if it thinks fit to so, has the right to declare that they shall not be put in force. It does seem to me that we make no progress by this scheme—that nothing is gained in the interest of those who desire to possess small holdings by the incorporation of such provisions into the Bill. In the Bill as it stands at present, part of the powers of the County Council are delegated to a Committee which will be partly composed of members of the County Council and partly of the allotment managers in the parish where the land is situated, and all the powers of the County Council may be delegated to that Committee, with the exception of the power of acquisition. When you come to the power of acquisition of land by these Parish Councils which the hon. Member desires to see introduced into the Bill, we are met at once with precisely the same difficulty we should have had had the Motion of the hon. Member for the Rugby Division (Mr. Cobb) been accepted.
§ MR. STEPHENS
The right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say there is the greatest possible distinction between my proposal and that of the hon. Member for Rugby. I have never advocated Parish Councils. I have simply had recourse to the old authority of open meeting of the inhabitants in 669 Vestry assembled by whom the Committee would be appointed.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
Quite so; I understand that; but I was about to point out the difficulty which would result if the parish proceeded to the acquisition of land. Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Commander Bethell) proposes that the limit of the rate should be 4d., that does not seem to be the view of the hon. Member who moved the Instruction. If the rate is to remain, as I think it ought to remain, at a penny, which is amply sufficient for the purpose of making the experiment we desire to make, then I do not see how it would be possible for any parish authority to give anything in the nature of real effect to the Bill. They would not be strong enough to do it; they are entirely inadequate to the acquisition of land, and no matter what the delegation of power in their hands the Act would become, in my opinion, a dead letter. The proposal is open to another objection which would make me extremely sorry to see it incorporated in the Bill, it is open to the objection pointed out by the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings), that it would involve the admission of causes of delay. I cannot look with any approval on the proposal of my hon. Friend, and I hope he will not think it necessary to carry his Motion to a Division.
§ Question put.
§ (11.55.) The House divided:—Ayes 151; Noes 174.—(Div. List, No. 68.)
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The only other Instruction standing on the Paper is unnecessary. What it proposes can be done in Committee without Instruction, so I now proceed to leave the Chair to complete the proceedings begun before midnight, and in pursuance of Standing Order No. 51.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.