§ SECOND READING. [ADJOURNED DEBATE.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [21st March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ (5.15.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
The President of the Board of Agriculture and Her Majesty's Ministers may congratulate themselves that we have not fallen into the natural temptation of raking up old scores and winning an easy rhetorical victory over the inconsistency of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am strengthened in that wish by the fact that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill showed an almost entire conversion to the views held on this side, and contained a note of sympathy, almost of enthusiasm, for the policy of re-creating the life of rural England. I wish to confine myself strictly and severely to practical suggestions on this one of the most important proposals that have come 1699 before the House. We complain that the Bill is not up to sample; it is not so good as the admirable and sympathetic speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It appears to have some of the features we have recognised in other measures of late years, and seems, on the very face of it, the offspring of that unholy union between the renegade Radicalism of Birmingham and the New Toryism which looks to the votes of the agriculturists in the country districts much more than to the principles and precepts of the Old Toryism of the past. Like other offspring of this unblessed union, this proposal is stamped with sterility. I recently moved for a Return of the proceedings under the Allotments Act, and the amount of land acquired under it, and hon. Members on both sides know that that Return will show incontestibly its absolute failure as a piece of machinery for bringing land within the reach of the agricultural labourer. The two main reasons of that failure are that though compulsion was in the Bill it was so fettered and kept in the background that it had no useful and practical effect. In the passing of the Act the Radicalism of Birmingham stultified some of its early principles by not giving us effective support in carrying the principle of compulsion. As there is no compulsion at all in the present Bill, there is great danger of its being more ineffective and useless than the Allotments Act. If compulsion was necessary in dealing with small plots of land it is ten times more necessary where you are dealing with larger areas. The right hon. Gentleman said he would not introduce compulsion into the Bill because it might frighten the landlords, but in the Allotments Act the justification urged for compulsion was that it would be, as it were, a rod, rarely used, but kept in the background, to compel the landlords to re-consider their position with regard to allotments, and to do justice to the people. My view is that land has been brought within reach of the people in allotments mainly because they have votes, and also because landlords have land on their hands which they desire to put to practical use. This Bill professes to 1700 be a great experiment—and as an experiment, within certain limits, I heartily welcome it—and upon it I wish to make useful suggestions, and not merely destructive criticisms. In such an experiment as this it is the first duty of a practical Minister to provide the raw material on which the experiment is to be tried. I have no desire to start revolutionary theories with respect to land, but the Act which dealt with the enclosure of commons in 1876 gave a precedent by providing that a certain proportion should be retained for allotments and recreation grounds. Why has not the Government introduced some such provision in this Bill for dealing with the Crown lands, the lands of the Duchy of Lancaster, and glebe lands? There we have great national resources, and it is the duty of the Minister, in such an experiment as this, to create channels through which the land can be brought within reach of the people. I do not see why the Bill should not ear-mark these lands for the purpose of small holdings, with, of course, equitable consideration for the rights of the existing tenants, and of the interests of the nation and the Crown in the lands. I do not see why such a plan should not be adopted in some modified or more limited form. Take the facts in the recent Glebe Lands Return, which are of a most startling nature. Mr. Arthur Arnold, in his evidence before the Small Holdings Committee, drew attention to the position of these lands near to the villages and their consequent usefulness and suitability for the purpose of small holdings. The Return shows that out of 206 cases glebes, which are practically national land—for if it is a National Church the land is national land—have been diverted from the uses to which they ought to be devoted, and in 95 cases out of the 206 the purchasers were the owners of land immediately adjoining the glebe, and the powerful man, who had been adding field to field and house to house, was enabled to swallow up these glebe lands, which might have been given to the labourer and small holder. Of the whole number of purchasers registered only two—a cottager and a waggoner—appear to belong to the artizan or 1701 labouring classes. There were sold 1,587 acres for over £90,000, and in five cases out of six the glebes were bought by a single purchaser. That shows that this national store of land is being handed over in the interest of the Church and the landowning classes owing to the imperfect machinery of the Act, and is not used as it might have been for carrying out a great experiment like this. I have had some experience of the administration of the Duchy lands, and the spirit in which they are administered is simply deplorable. The Duchy practically refuses to consider the question of allotments unless the proposed tenants are already living on part of the Duchy land, although they might be living in the adjoining town. That shows how far we are from a just administration of these great national resources from the view of a supply of land for the use of the people. The hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Cust) repeated a suggestion, made recently by Lord Thring, that in the case of the Succession Duty and the redemption of the Land Tax, payment should be taken in kind, and that the Government should encourage the handing over of land to the Local Authorities in order to carry out the policy of small holdings. But there is another point to which I must refer. I would recall the attention of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), who was Chairman of the Small Holdings Committee, to the deplorable, and almost sinister, action of that Committee in regard to the question of settlement. Everybody knows that the best land will not be available for small holdings until the system of settlement is broken up, and you enable the life owner to deal with the land. It was proposed in that Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston that the Committee should make a statement to the effect that the abolition of the Law of Settlement was the very corner-stone of the question of bringing land within the reach of the people, and recommend the abolition of that law as the first essential to carrying out this policy. What was the result? The two Members for Birmingham by their own efforts defeated the proposal that the Law of Settlement should be amended 1702 in the manner suggested by my hon. Friend. Now I contend that, as no steps have been taken to make available these great resources, or to open channels to bring land more freely into the market, it is for that very reason the duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to introduce the principle of compulsion. How is land to be got? There are, of course, landlords who have provided small holdings, but we also know that has been where large farms held by farmers who have become bankrupt have come into the landlord's hands. I know of one generous and wise landlord who has found himself with 1,000 acres on his hands, and has promoted small holdings from philanthropy as well as self-interest. But the landlords are not willing to sell the land for the purpose for which we require it. The position we are in is that under this Bill there is no absolute power to obtain land, and the only land in the market would be little fagged-out estates, neglected and mismanaged, fragments of land sold off bigger estates, the owners of which are practically bankrupt, inaccessible farms out of the way of the markets, or heavy clay land. In some cases this land, as the right hon. Gentleman said, may be obtained at comparatively low prices, but what would be the position of a County Council which attempted to buy under these terms? The result of this Bill is to create an artificial market for land otherwise unsaleable, and at the value placed upon it by the owners. You will find that the County Councils will buy the land at considerably over its agricultural value, and those who take the land will have to pay a price which has been estimated in one quarter at no less than 50 or 60 per cent. above the rent which a man would pay for similar land as a hiring tenant. That is not a sensible and practical proposal, and we shall not get at the land unless in this Bill we have the principle of compulsion, and have it applied so that we can get land at its fair price. Now with respect to the local administrative machinery. I have pointed out that the land which the County Councils would acquire would be small farms or small estates of, say, 300 acres at the outside. This 1703 land would be situated in one part of the county, and the whole of the experiment would be carried on for the exclusive benefit of the inhabitants of that particular parish or group of parishes. But the county rate runs over the whole county, and the result would be discontent and friction in those parts of the county which were not benefited by the experiment. In this respect the Bill requires to be remodelled with a view of rendering it more equitable to the ratepayers, and more workable in itself. I think the Allotments Act has much better machinery in this respect, and it would be well if the principle of the 9th clause, which delegates power from the County Council to local managers in the case of land let in small amounts of one to ten acres, were extended. There should be some local machinery to see that the right land is acquired and that the right men get it, and until you get something in the form of Parish Councils—which we on this side of the House have found are very popular in the country—you will get no nearer a solution of the question. The hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Cust) referred the other day to the question of registration of title, and I think it is essential that there should be introduced into this Bill something of the same kind of principle that we found in the Irish Land Purchase Act for the registry of title. I would also call attention to a valuable suggestion made by Lord Thring that the rural post offices should be used to develop this policy of small holdings. I think it would be most useful for maps and all information to be kept at all the rural post offices, and printed forms for inquiry on application, so that the agricultural labourer without trouble may have all the facts he requires placed at his disposal. I think this Bill, though it is in a very imperfect form, may be made useful to the country. If you will adopt local machinery of the kind I have suggested, put in the corner stone of compulsion, and also of fair prices, if you have Local Bodies who can initiate schemes for the County Councils to consider, and if you introduce the principle of compulsory leasing and re-letting of land, I venture 1704 to think that the Bill will be of immense benefit. I have made a rough calculation of what may be done under the provisions of this Bill. If the County Councils are empowered to spend £10,000,000 as a maximum sum, and they acquire land at the rate of £50 an acre—a very high price, but I mean that to include every expense—it will provide something like 200,000 acres of land. That would provide about 20 or 30 acres for every rural parish in England, and if we introduced the principle of the compulsory hiring of land you would find that the sum available would provide a much larger area. The small holders would be much more ready to rent than they will now be to buy, and the plots of land would be scattered instead of being gathered in one large and inconvenient plot. As a director of the Small Farms and Labourers Land Company presided over by Lord Wantage, I have paid close attention to this matter, and the experiments which we have made may not be uninteresting to the House. We have acquired about 750 acres of land, and the population working on that land and drawing its livelihood from the land has multiplied four times. The holders have been able to provide their own buildings, and to provide them in a very satisfactory way. One tenant bought 17 acres of arable land and two acres of pasture land at comparatively low price. This man has built a house with two bed rooms, two sitting rooms a kitchen and an outside dairy for £85; he built a cowshed, a barn and other appurtenances for £22, and fenced his land for £5. This shows what it is possible for people to do when they are in a position to do the work for themselves. When he bought the plot he paid £73 down and is now paying instalments of £17 10s. a year, and he and others on the estates have been very successful. There have been few or no evictions, and few tenants have left. We find that there has been a very large demand for plots of this land, as tenancies, and few of the tenants were willing to buy in spite of the fact that they could get the land at comparatively low prices. In this way the land is naturally distributing itself into 1705 plots of two, three and four acres, and at the top of the list you find small farms of 19, 25, and 30 acres. In this view I may say that I look upon the 2nd sub-section of the 9th clause which enables the County Council when the tenants are not in a position to buy the land to let the land in lots of from one to ten acres as a practical proposal, and whatever happens to the Bill I hope the Government will stick to that proposal and make it work. If the right hon. Gentleman is willing to reconstruct this Bill so as to have something like Parish Councils, if the principle of compulsion is introduced even in some qualified form to enable County Councils to buy desirable plots in desirable places rather than the larger estates which are now in the market, and if compulsory leasing is introduced, it seems to me that by this Bill you will achieve a practical result. But there is one clause of this Bill which is as unwise as, I think, the section to which I previously referred is wise. Section 10 has the very ambitious intention of introducing the Ashbourne Act into England, and I do not think any clause proposing such an enormous change, but without the slightest machinery for carrying it out, has ever been proposed in this House. This Bill may be worked into shape on the lines that I have suggested. What we really want is a big Allotments Bill to enable agricultural labourers to get possession of a plot of land, and go on from acre to acre until they have got 15 or 20 acres. We wish to give the small tenants an opportunity of rising higher and higher, and we rejoice over the conversion of the Government to the principle of giving facilities for access to the land. But while I am disposed to give every credit to the Government I must say that the political aspect of this Bill is a little too transparent. In its present form it will do nothing but advance the prices of very nearly worthless estates, and it is obviously intended to obtain the votes of the agricultural labourers of this country. But I believe the labourers will not give their adherence to the Conservative Party in consequence of this bribe any more than they did in consequence of previous bribes. They 1706 know perfectly well that the Liberal Party is pledged not to do these things with one hand tied behind our backs, but to take our coats off and produce a measure which will give the people an opportunity of acquiring the land, and also give them a proper local authority to deal with it. The electorate of this country is prepared to return a Liberal majority, because they know that the Party will be pledged to deal with this question quite as much as with Home Rule. But Home Rule or no Home Rule, the men who send us to the House of Commons intend to see that the next Parliament shall not be dissolved until this question is dealt with. We shall not consent to any curtailing of the life of a new Parliament until this great question has been carried through. But while I have somewhat sharply criticised this Bill, I recognise it as an effort, within very narrow limits, to recognise a principle to which I give my heartiest support, a principle which will work for the benefit of the agricultural community.
(5.56.) MR. F. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)
I rise with great diffidence to address the House on a subject of such great importance as that we are now discussing, and I trust I may be allowed to ask the House to extend to me that indulgence which is always given to those in my position. I can quite understand that the evil with which this Bill is intended to deal is felt more keenly in the agricultural districts than in the towns. But my excuse for rising is that I consider this Bill to be of very great importance also to the interests of the great towns of this country. I cannot profess that the constituency which I represent is to any great degree concerned in this Bill, but if the progress of the evil which this Bill seeks to correct still goes on, I think we shall find that the congestion of the labour market will year by year press inward from the outskirts of our great towns. This Bill endeavours to provide a remedy for that, but we were told during the progress of this Debate that this was not the right time for such a Bill to be introduced, as Parliament is moribund. We heard that objection not very long ago, but I 1707 contend, Mr. Speaker, that it is the duty of every Legislative Assembly to initiate new legislative proposals up to the hour of its death. I can understand that there is a certain amount of disappointment on the other side of the House—and this was clearly evinced in the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Channing)—that this Bill was introduced not by a Radical but by a Unionist Government. But I ask what would hon. Members on that side of the House have said if the Government had passed over the promises they had made? I think we should have heard something about broken promises and unredeemed pledges. Although there have been and may be differences of opinion as to this Bill, I think it will be admitted that it is one which generally deals with the difficulties at which it is aimed. What are the causes of the success of small holdings in France? No doubt it is partly due to the influences of climate and the description of the soil, or the lie of the land. The soil in France is in many places suited for the cultivation of grapes, fruit, and vegetables, which pay well for the labour bestowed upon them. Why should the result of small holdings in England not follow to some extent the experience of those in France? One of the great causes of the division of the land amongst the people in France is that the transfer and registration of land is easy. In England land has become concentrated, and in this I agree with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Many capitalists have bought up small holdings, not only because times have been bad, but because capitalists can afford to pay for the investigation of titles. They can also afford to spend more on the soil, and they can wait longer for a return. I should like to see the system of voluntary registration extended so that the investigation of titles would not press too heavily upon small holders. I would not make it compulsory, but I believe the system would tend towards the success of the measure. We have heard a good deal about the sacred word "compulsion." I think nearly every Member who got up on the other 1708 side of the House was in favour of compulsion. But I have only heard one Member mention a case where he thought such compulsion would be absolutely needed. It has been said landlords will not sell, and that if they do sell, the prices they ask will be prohibitory without compulsion. I have not heard any arguments which lead me to that conclusion. I believe it would be most dangerous to introduce the system of compulsion. It would breed ill-feeling between County Councils and landlords. It might, in some cases, undoubtedly depreciate the value of land if County Councils could insist upon taking the best field out of an estate. Above all, I believe it would breed a feeling of insecurity which could not be good for any property or for any interest. Without compulsion I am sure we shall find plenty of land in the market, and that landlords will negotiate fairly. They would see that they could only get a fair price, as the County Councils would be condemned by the ratepayers if they gave a landlord more than a fair price. I believe landlords would rejoice at the creation of small holdings, as by such a system agriculture would be greatly improved and the position of the landlord would become much more favourable. It has been said the County Council is not the proper authority to put the Act in motion. There is no other authority except the Sanitary Authorities, and I suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite would not be anxious to see the Act carried out by them. I do not think the County Council area is too large a one, as the necessities of the case are met by the character of the Committee proposed to be created, on which both the locality and the county would be fully represented. Suppose there were Parish Councils and the power was given to them, in many cases the parish would be too small an area for raising sufficient rating. In that case the parish would have to get money out of the county rate, and some one would have to be appointed from the County Council or the Parish Council to see that the rate was properly expended, so that you would really arrive at the same result. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division was anxious that the Government should be persuaded to 1709 put into their measure a clause which would enable County Councils to lease land, especially outside big towns. That might be a most successful proposal. Land outside big towns is very often specially valuable for the production of vegetables, flowers and other commodities used in almost every house in big towns. No doubt this might entail a little more risk, but as the County Councils have such large powers they may be entrusted to carry this out. I wish to thank the House for the patient way they have listened to what I had to say. I have ventured to put some observations before them, but I cannot hope for the immediate creation of small holdings. They will come very likely in the next generation. Want of capital will be a great difficulty in the way. Poor men cannot expect to do much good unless they can expend £8 an acre. I hope these small holdings may be a stepping-stone to a larger-class of holdings. I hope this measure will encourage and bring out the thrift which I am afraid, as a nation, we are rather wanting in, and I trust that it will re-create that class of yeomen who in years gone by have been the backbone and strength of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian has told us that small holdings would be a powerful instrument in the re-generation of the country districts. I believe it will preserve and increase the greatness of this country, and I feel sure that in years to come, when hon. Members will have had an opportunity of seeing the successful working of this Bill, they will look back with thankfulness and pride to the day when they assisted in passing it into law.
§ (6.12.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
No one could be more certain than the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down of a favourable reception, because he is the bearer of a name which at once commends him to universal respect and sympathy. I am very glad that being the bearer of that name he has now given us reason to suppose by his own qualities also he will merit the confidence and approval of the House. For my own part, I do not intend to enter at large into the arguments upon those portions of the 1710 present Bill which form the subject-matter of the principal part of the speeches delivered on this side of the House. What I do wish in the first place to impress upon the House is that we have before us a very great work, and, at the same time, a work in which we cannot expect to make very rapid progress. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in that part of his speech wherein he signified that in his opinion a long time would elapse before we could reach such a point as to be able to consider the condition of the country upon the whole, in regard to this matter, as thoroughly satisfactory. If that be so, if the work is great and the progress likely to be slow, undoubtedly, in my view, it is most desirable that we should not allow the opportunity now before us to pass without giving every extension in our power to the plan which has come under the consideration of the House. I am far from objecting to the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in the introduction of this Bill. I do not think that there is anything in the position of this Parliament short of its being its remaining term, which ought to have prevented them submitting their views to the House. I greatly rejoice to think that this Bill is an honest effort in the right direction. Having said that, I am bound to say that I think it is far within, far short of, that which the necessity of the case demands. No one, I think, can contemplate the position of this country with regard to the relations between the cultivators of the soil and the soil itself without considerable pain. And when it is said that compulsion cannot be necessary to introduce into a Bill of this kind, I am sorry to say that the slowness of the progress we have thus far made, when there has been nothing to prevent the full operation of voluntary contract in regard to small holdings, impresses me with a different feeling and with the sense of a strong necessity. The contrast between the face of this country and the face of other countries is painful in this respect. We have a popular Government; we have enfranchised the rural labourers; the rural labourer is attached to the soil; but, Sir, he ought to be much more at- 1711 tached to the soil than he is, and he would be much more attached to the soil were it not that his relation to it is in so vast a majority of instances only that which is constituted by hired labour on that soil. We ought to make great efforts, Sir, in this direction. We have come generally, or very generally, to the conclusion that there is something painful in the condition of the rural labourer in this great respect, that it is hard even for the industrious and sober man, under ordinary conditions, to secure a provision for his own old age. Very large propositions, involving, some of them, very novel and very wide principles, have been submitted to the public, for the purpose of securing such a provision by means independent of the labourer himself. Sir, I am not going to criticise these proposals, and I am only referring to them as signs that there is much to be done—that their condition is far from satisfactory; and it is eminently, as I think, our duty to develop in the first instance, every means that we may possibly devise whereby, if possible, the labourer may be able to make this provision for himself, or to approximate towards making such provision far more efficaciously and much more closely than he can now do. Well Sir, we ought, I think, to enlarge this plan as far as possible; I do not mean by excessive demands upon the time of the House, or the patience of the Government. I do not wish to interpose any obstacle in the way of passing this Bill, even if we should fail to introduce the Amendments which we desire; but I think it is our duty to state these Amendments clearly and plainly, because I think it is the fixed belief of those who sit on this side of the House that without such Amendments, the plan, however well intended, must fall very far short of giving effect to the benevolent intentions of its authors. I agree then with my hon. Friends who have spoken in this Debate, that it is necessary to introduce the principle of compulsion into this Bill. I think that, without the principle of compulsion, we are in a considerable danger as to the standard of fair price; while it is plain on the other hand, that compulsion will expose the landlord to no danger of having to receive a price unfairly low, 1712 inasmuch as the settlement of that price must be referred to an independent tribunal, where compulsion is brought into action, and the disposition of such a tribunal will always be, where there is a doubt, to give that doubt rather in favour of the person whose land is to be taken. Sir, there is another consideration of great importance which appears to me to show the necessity of compulsion—and that is, the situation of the land. It is of vital consequence when the holdings are small; it is of vital consequence to those who are to possess them, or to work them, that they should be in immediate contiguity to their own residences. I say where the holdings are small, and I mean by those words, where the holdings are very small; and I do not indeed, know why it is required in the Bill that the transactions of the County Councils must exceed one acre of land. That is a detail; but I doubt very much whether that provision, as it stands, is altogether a wise one, for it is my belief that the great majority of your transactions under this Bill will be transactions in very small holdings, and with regard to these very small holdings you deprive them of half their value if you do not place them in immediate contiguity to the dwellings. And there it is, Sir, that I confess I think it may be and must be requisite to introduce into the case, after all we have seen, the action of positive and coercive authority in order to secure this great advantage for those who are to be holders or owners of the land under a Bill like this. Well, then, I cannot doubt that we must have a smaller area of action. Take a county like Yorkshire: the County Council has to ascertain that there is a sufficient demand for small holdings to justify their putting the Act into operation. But, Sir, in a county like Yorkshire, and not only in a county like Yorkshire, but in a multitude of counties, and probably in almost every county, this demand will be at first but partial. It will be limited to certain districts of the county. How is the County Council to judge whether it is required, whether there is a demand of this kind over the whole of the county? Nay, I 1713 do not believe in every case that the County Council will be the best judge of the question whether in a particular small district such a demand exists or not. In a small district it may escape the notice of the County Council that such a demand exists. Small areas, therefore, I am persuaded, will be necessary. And then I am met with the objection that some parishes would be too small. I admit that you must constitute a unit of a reasonable amount, but there is ample room between the scope of a county and the limited area of some of the small parishes of this country to find ground for a reasonable conclusion. But there is also, Sir, this consideration which leads me to believe that we must have a smaller area. Supposing we take the case of an ordinary county with a partial and local demand, a demand which we hope will spread afterwards and become universal, but with respect to which we can have no means of realising anything like universality at present—supposing it should happen that the County Council find in a limited portion of a county that there is a real and active demand, while the rest of the county is not yet awakened to the necessity of arrangements such as these—if that is the case, and if the county rate is to be made liable for purchases made in a particular and limited portion of the county, a very great jealousy will exist in the remote parts of the county at the burdening of the entire rate on behalf of persons and on behalf of districts with which they have no sense of real neighbourhood. That jealousy, acting on the County Council, may prove to be a most formidable obstacle in the way of the operation of this Bill. Sir, it is so much an article of faith, it is so established a conviction on this side of the House, that we must not only have small areas, but smaller administrative bodies, that I need not dwell on that subject. It has been, I think, fully explained, and I am persuaded that smaller areas must be established—aye, very small bodies—bodies which I would describe as Parochial Councils, subject only to the admission I have made that a minimum area of a reasonable extent must be established, although that area may include several parishes. 1714 I believe that, subject to that limitation only, the establishment of Parochial Councils, thoroughly and exclusively acquainted with the needs of the neighbourhood, and the condition of the people, is essential to a good plan of small holdings such as this Bill contemplates. Then, Sir, it is said, and I think there is great force in the remark, that such bodies would not be competent to deal with the finance of the measure. I agree with that proposition. It is rather for the transaction of the material business in the limited district that I think they are well adapted. With respect to finance then, while a plan of this kind would have the advantage of laying the responsibility upon the rates only in those neighbourhoods where the people could appreciate the necessity for the transaction; on the other hand I quite agree that they would not be, except under the control of the County Council, they could hardly be bodies capable of dealing conclusively with those important financial questions. Well, Sir, I have mentioned those three points, of compulsion, of reduced areas, and of subordinate councils or parish councils, subject only to the consideration as I have said, of an area not unreasonably small. But that which weighs most upon my mind is a matter that has not been noticed uniformly by speakers even on this side of the House, but I was very glad to observe that it did find a place in the intelligent consideration that has been given to the subject by the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Smith). I mean the question of leasing—the question of tenancy taken in the large sense, as contrasted with the question of purchase. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture, will, I am sure, forgive me, if I say that I attach but very small weight to the provision which he introduces upon this subject, not because it is limited to the extent of ten acres or to the value of £10, but because it is evident from the terms in which that provision is couched that it is only a subsidiary and temporary plan. It is only to provide for what I think will be the rare case where a County Council is convinced upon a consideration, not of the circumstances of the country, but of the particular and individual case, that a man is not yet 1715 in a condition to buy, but shortly will be: there and there only will he be at liberty to lease. Now, Sir, against that merely intermediate form of the use of the power of letting, I wish to set up a very much larger proposal and larger view of the enormous advantages which I think attach to that method of procedure. I want to know why the County Council should not be able to hold land upon feu from the landowner? It appears that there is considerable danger and difficulty in requiring the County Council to purchase, and then empowering them to let, because, if that is the case, the county rate will be obliged to become the purchaser of the fee-simple of the land. I am not aware of any reason why you should not authorise the County Council, whether you introduce compulsion or not, to take land upon feu, of course upon fair terms, from the owner who holds it. It would be no injustice to him, because he would receive full consideration in the form of an annual payment. It is no diminution of his security. His security would still be upon the rates. I cannot conceive that from either of these points of view the plan could be open to objection. I do not mean to say it would be an exclusive plan, but I wish to put it broadly in that way. I look not merely to the transaction between the County Council and the cultivator who is to obtain land under it, but I look to the position of the County Council itself, and then I observe that you have very great and, indeed, vast advantages, because you avoid altogether burdening the rates with the capital value of the land. I see a very limited application of this principle in a later clause of the Bill. I can conceive that it might be right to guard against possible deterioration in the value of the land at a future period by reserving some margin which should be made the subject of payment in full; but I give no opinion upon that subject, well convinced as I am that the operation of this Bill in 99 cases out of 100 and the operation of any good plan framed on this basis must be not to diminish, but to enormously increase the value of the land, which will be subjected to more thorough cultivation, 1716 and have more capital laid out upon it. Then, when the County Council has feued the land, I should leave to it a very large discretion in this matter. Let them proceed, aided by the Parish Council—let them exercise, to a great extent, their own judgment as to the kind of tenure under which the land is to be held. If there is an abundant supply of purchasers, by all means let them purchase. I think there can be no objection to these purchases. The financial part of the scheme, strictly so-called, as the right hon. Gentleman has framed it, seems to me to be soundly and considerately framed. I look upon it as by no means an impossible result that, from the want of purchasers, you will have the good intentions and the useful provisions of this Bill reduced to sterility. Be that as it may—and that may be too dark a view—I do not want to press it; besides those who are capable of purchase, there will be a great number of persons who may be not capable of purchasing, and yet competent to manage, and this will be a much larger class. Why would it be a larger class? Because, in proportion as the quantity of capital required is smaller, the class able to produce it is larger. It must never be forgotten that in this country, with the high value of land, if the small cultivator has saved a few pounds or a few score of pounds, and we ask him to invest that money in land by the mode of absolute purchase, we are asking him to invest four-fifths of his capital at 3 per cent. and only one-fifth of it would be left for the purpose of securing a trading profit. That is an immense difficulty in the way of purchase. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in regretting the gradual disappearance of yeomen from this country; but when you consider those rigid, silent, but, in the long run, unerring laws of political economy which operate upon the minds and govern the conduct of men, what is the case of the yeoman whose land and farm stock together are worth £5,000? It is this: his land is giving him 3 per cent. on £4,000, and only £1,000 is giving him a trade profit. Is it unnatural that that yeoman should compare his own position with that of a man who applies for a farm carrying 1717 £5,000 in his hand, and putting into it the whole of that amount to stock it, the landlord supplying the other four-fifths at 3 per cent., with perfect content to himself. That is a consideration which I believe cannot be disputed, and constitutes a motive of enormous force. I am not arguing against purchase. Avail yourselves of purchase to the fullest degree that you can bring it into action. I quite admit that the property of the soil may, so far as social and moral purposes are concerned, attain more fully than any other means the moral and social ends that we have in view. But I do not wish to limit the benefit to be conferred within the narrow bounds which I believe purchase will offer. I believe it is in our power to go greatly beyond them, and it is for that purpose the hon. Member who has just sat down and the hon. Member for Bordesley expressed a desire that the Government may be disposed—and I am persuaded they will find very little difficulty in so doing—to extend the provisions and the basis of this Bill for the purpose of letting in a principle of tenure other than that of purchase. It is an advantage, if we can, to avoid invoking the aid of the State. I do not think that the State is in any danger, and I do not think there is any great objection to it; but, at the same time, it is well to avoid it where we can. I think, too, as regards the rates, it would be an immense advantage to avoid burdening the rates with the large amount of the capital sum. It would simplify the whole of the transactions, although the County Council would, in the last resort, be the financial authority. They would have little to deal with in the main, except annual receipts and annual outgoings. I have in vain laboured to discover any point on which this process would be disadvantageous to the landlord. The main point is that the question of tenure must not be limited to transactions between the County Council, the Local Authority, and the cultivator. The cultivator derives the greatest advantage of all, for he becomes a trader, and a trader only, in that sense in which agriculture, and even small agriculture, is a trade; and I cannot help expressing the immense satisfac- 1718 tion with which I see signs in every portion of the country that the public mind is continually opening more and more to the great advantages that may be gained by small agriculture. It is in regard to the small agriculture of France, and not in regard to its large agriculture, that this country can so ill bear comparison; and I believe I state a truth, on the best and highest authorities, when I say that the growth of agricultural values in France, between the period immediately following the great war and the present time, has been far more rapid than during the same period in England. Now, if that is so, it is not owing to the great farms. The large farms in Normandy and other parts of France are very like those in this country. I have no reason to suppose that they are superior to the large farms in England, and, indeed, some considerations may lead one to believe that they may be inferior. It is the small holdings in France that have brought the agricultural wealth of that country to a point so marvellously and almost incredibly large. I have not made these remarks in a hostile spirit. I fully believe that we have a common object in view. I want, as far as possible, to get upon a common ground, and if we do so I am convinced we may do enormous good; but if it be premature to expect that we are all prepared to assume one and the same position, I am sure you will admit, as candid and impartial men, that it is our duty to state fairly, freely, and strongly, those points by which we think the largest and safest extension may be given to a plan of this kind, with a view to the removal of what is at present something like a national discredit, and to a very large increase in the prosperity of the country and the stability of British trade.
§ (5.44.) THE FIEST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I am quite sure that those who have listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman will feel that he has not appealed to them in vain to recognise that he has not approached this question in any hostile spirit, and that he has no desire to raise unnecessary controversy upon the Second Reading of this 1719 Bill. It will be my business to traverse some of the contentions he has put before the House; but, before doing so, let me express my hearty agreement with the proposition with which he began—that we have listened with the greatest pleasure and satisfaction to the speech which was delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. W. F. D. Smith). I think this is the first time the hon. Member has taken part in our Debates, and I hope it will not be the last by very many. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down based his desire for some great alteration in our present system of land tenure, not merely upon the ground that the condition of the agricultural labourer leaves much to be desired, but upon the ground that his condition and the condition of agriculture in England are so far behind that which prevails on the Continent that it ought to be a matter of shame to us.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to refer to agriculture at large. Small agriculture hardly gives us the basis for comparison. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to complain of the fact, not merely that the agricultural labourers condition was one which might be improved, but that it compared most unfavourably with the condition of the small holder and agricultural labourer abroad. This is a subject to which at one time I gave a considerable amount of study, and I must express my total dissent from the conclusion at which the right hon. Gentleman has arrived. I agree with him that the condition of the agricultural labourer requires much attention, but I do not agree with him that the system which prevails abroad has produced a condition of things, with regard to those engaged in the cultivation of the soil, which is superior in any great degree to that which prevails in England. I exclude, of course, the vine-growing districts in France, as the conditions are very different. But if we deal with agriculture proper it will be found that in Belgium and France the 1720 system of small holdings exist by the side of large holdings, and the small holder is not better but is often much worse off than the holder of the large farm. The interests of the agricultural population in Belgium and in France, and, I may add, all over the Continent, are preserved by protective laws, based and maintained for the sole purpose of improving their condition. No such protective laws exist in this country, and I do not suppose it is contemplated by any hon. Member that they should be passed, though I must say that if a very large number of holders are created by this or any other measure you will have protection. Even in Belgium and France, where this system has been applied to the greatest extent, I do not believe, broadly speaking, that the agricultural population is better off than our agricultural population. If you go to Germany, Roumania, or Russia, I believe there is no comparison whatever between the conditions of small holders and that of our agricultural labourers. Therefore, do not let us go into this Bill with any false idea that by the mere substitution of small holdings for big holdings you are going to substitute an agricultural paradise for the opposite of an agricultural paradise. What I believe you will do will be to greatly raise the tone of rural life in England, to give an opportunity to those who have some money to raise themselves in the social scale, and give an opportunity, which unfortunately does not now exist, for men to become small holders to the enormous social, political, and economic advantage of the country at large. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that the condition of the labourer—because he is a hired labourer—is one of great hardship, and he appears to assume that the great number of holdings created under this Bill would be an acre, over an acre, and he desires to see them a little under an acre; but the man who has now an acre, five acres, or ten acres must supplement his agricultural work by hired labour of some kind. He must be dependent in some way on the employment given him by others; and if that is an objection, and I do not think it is, it is not an objection which you will get 1721 over. Now, the question has been asked, "Why did you fix the limit of an acre?" We fix it because under the acre it is dealt with in the existing Allotment Acts, and we take up the limit where those Acts leave it, and deal with holdings between an acre and 50 acres. The next point I would deal with is that with reference to compulsion. The right hon. Gentleman has stated perfectly truly that if there were a fair system of compulsion adopted the landlord would not suffer pecuniarily because by hypothesis he would obtain a fair price for the land he would sell. I think that in this debate there has been too great a disposition to consider that the only question is that between the owner of the land and the small holder we all desire to create. We must not forget the position of the farmer. It is the farmer who will suffer more than anybody else if compulsion is ill-applied, or recklessly applied. I think that in the interest not only of the landlord, but of the tenant farmer, it is only fair to make a full trial of the provisions of this Bill, and see if we cannot acquire, as I believe we can, all the land we require without exercising compulsory powers at all. Then the right hon. Gentleman expressed, and not for the first time, his own preference for a system of Parish Councils in regard to the administrative area. He desires that the area of administration should be something like that of a parish. I presume, therefore, that the rate which is to be proposed is the parochial rate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has not made up his mind on the subject.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I did not say the parish was to decide as to the allotments. I stated that all the financial arrangements must be under the control, in my opinion, of the County Council. As to the rate, whether it should or should not be parochial, I gave no distinct opinion, because there are such things as intermediate arrangements already in operation in this country—which are neither parochial rates on the one side, nor county rates on the other. There are 1722 cases of grants in aid, which can be much better dealt with by local discretion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I feel some difficulty in arguing with the right hon. Gentleman against the scheme whose outline is of so shadowy a description. I do not, of course, in the least wish to press the right hon. Gentleman unduly on the point. But when his scheme comes to be embodied, as I suppose it will be in an Amendment to the Bill, he will find considerable difficulty in regard to the rating area or the administrative area. If the rating area is small, his scheme will not work. If the rating area is large, he can hardly leave the administration to an area smaller than that which has to bear the cost of working. Now, I pass to the next and last point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and that is as to the kind of tenure he desires to see established under the Act. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, as those who heard his speech are aware, though he would prefer to see freehold established, nevertheless contemplates that the Act, if it is to be operative at all, must include in its scope very full provisions for leaseholders. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that that part of the Act is likely to be far more beneficial than the freehold portions. I confess I see very great difficulty in the view the right hon. Gentleman has put before us. In the first place, it is our desire and our ambition to do something by this Bill towards re-creating that system of small yeoman owners that once flourished, and that, we hope, will again flourish in this country. That is our main object; and if we allow our funds to be diverted to another object—namely, to the creating of a large number of small tenants—we evidently waste our forces upon that which we do not think is of the highest value. That is my first objection. Now, Sir, what is the particular form of tenancy that the right hon. Gentleman proposes? So far as I understand, he wishes to establish what in Scotland are called feus. Feus, I may tell the English Members of the House, are fixed rents which run for ever. I do not exactly call them head-rents, because these necessarily 1723 bear a very small relation to the value of the improved land on which head-rents are paid. The feu is a rent that runs for ever, and the recipient of which has no power to resume possession of the land. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman contemplates that by a system of compulsion the landowners of this country shall be obliged to let their land on feu to the County Council. That would be a very great hardship. Compulsion, I understand, to compel a man to part with his property at a fair price is a proceeding with which we are all familiar, and which is undoubtedly justifiable if a great public necessity can be demonstrated. None of us have a word to say against that form of compulsion. But to compel a man to let his land seems to me an entirely new operation, never sanctioned, so far as I know, by this House, and in itself obviously unjust. At the present time, if an owner desires to sell he can obtain a fair price for his land in the open market. He has the power of obtaining a capital sum. That power you deprive him of if you compel him to let the land. He becomes possessed of a sort of head-rent for ever, probably adequately secured by the rates of the county, but you prevent him for all time from selling the plot of land which you feu, and you deprive him of the power of selling his land for a capital sum equivalent to the value.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether feus are not sold in Scotland now?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It may be possible for the landlords under certain circumstances to sell; but I think to compel a landlord to accept that kind of security, which may or may not be saleable at some future time in exchange for land which is always saleable for a capital sum, would be a great hardship. However, I pass from the effect on the landlord of this proposition to its effect on the County Council. Here, again, I must traverse the contention of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think the finances of the County Council would be greatly relieved if, instead of paying down a capital sum, you enabled them to pay a feu rent for ever. I think that operation would be 1724 more burdensome and more expensive. The County Council would borrow the money from the Public Works Loan Commissioners at 3⅛ per cent., which would be a charge upon their funds for ever. If you compel them to feu they would probably require to pay more than that sum. They would be compelled to borrow in a dear, as against a cheap, market, and they would be compelled to pay to the landlord 3⅓ per cent. for ever instead of 3⅛ to the Public Works Loan Commissioners. I cannot conceive that any County Council could think that was a good financial arrangement. It is not so good as that which we propose in this Bill. So far, therefore, as the landlords are concerned, and so far as the County Councils are concerned, the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman is not one that we can accept. Now, Sir, I turn from the landlords and the County Council to the tenants to be created under and to the general objects of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman desires to see not an increase of freeholders so much as an increase of small tenants. There is nothing that I know of in the existing land system of England which makes it difficult to create small tenants, and you gain nothing that I can see by substituting the County Council for the ordinary landlord. On the contrary; it appears to me that if you are to have small tenants as against small freeholders, you had much better leave them to the landlords they would have by the natural operation of economic laws than make them subject to representative bodies which must act by hard and fast rules. Representative bodies are trustees for the ratepayers, and they cannot make those elastic arrangements with their tenants that every landlord in England, so far as I know, is ready to make with his tenants. They cannot make allowances for bad times, nor give these small concessions which do so much to ease the difficulties which the tenant may have from time to time to encounter. Therefore, these tenants of the County Council will hold their land under much less convenient terms than if they were tenants under an ordinary landlord. The proposition of the right hon. Gentleman is neither the proposition of the hon. Member for the Strand 1725 nor that of the hon. Member for Bordesley. My hon. Friend behind me suggested that in the neighbourhood of large towns where lands might increase in value you might substitute temporary tenancy for freehold, so that the community should obtain the benefit of any increase. I do not say whether that is a good or a bad suggestion, though I admit much may be said in its favour. The hon. Member for Bordesley suggests that the community should have a perpetual interest in each holding, though small in comparison with the value of the holding. That also is a proposition for which much may be said. But the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman opposite differs from both. His proposal is not confined to cases in the neighbourhood of large towns, or to instances in which quit-rents bear a small proportion to the value of the land. The right hon. Gentleman desires that the County Council should let the land at a rack rent to these small holders. That is a proposal which I hope the House will never entertain. It would throw a burden on the County Councils—a burden which they are incapable of bearing—and would subject the small holders to difficulties under which they could not possibly pursue their industry. Now, Sir, I think I have noticed the main points of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I will leave my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, when he comes to survey at a later period the whole course of a very interesting discussion, to deal with any other points that may arise. I will only say, in conclusion, that while I entertain the liveliest hope and expectation that this Bill will do much to raise the condition of the agricultural population of this island. I do not rest my hopes upon the grounds stated in a part of his speech by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Nor can I bring myself to believe that whatever good effects it will have it will have the effect of raising the standard of agriculture in this country. Agriculture in this country has not been raised by the small owners, and it is still from the large owners that the future development of agriculture must be expected. But there is no conceivable reason drawn 1726 from the nature of things, or from experience of what is going on in foreign countries, why there should not be a mixed system of small and large owners—a system which, I believe, would be by far the best for the country, by far the best for the agricultural population, and best of all for the large owners themselves.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I should wish, Sir, to say one word by way of personal explanation on a particular point. My statement was this: that I would give to the local financial authorities power of taking land upon tenures inferior to the fee as well as upon the fee. I would carry that even to the extent of enabling them to take land on feu. I did not intend to exclude them from taking it upon lease.
§ MR. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
This Bill has for its avowed object, by providing small holdings for the labouring population, the prevention of the depopulation of our villages; therefore, I cordially welcome it with all its faults and shortcomings. I welcome it, coming from such a quarter, as an evidence that the Party so ably represented in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture are coming to realise the fact that it would be unwise to longer maintain their monopoly of the soil of Great Britain, or to ignore the principle that the first charge upon any land must be the maintenance of the human beings reared and cradled upon its bosom. Some hon. Members on this side of the House who represent agricultural constituencies may be pardoned any distrust they may have of the object of the Bill when they remember the utterance of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, on small holdings, at Exeter. Some of us have there an excuse for fearing that the aim of the Government is not so much to assist the agricultural labourer as to strengthen one political Party. But if I thought the measure was calculated to improve the condition of the agricultural labourer I would not stop to consider motives. The agricultural labourer is to be congratulated, however, on the recognition now accorded to his deplorable condition by the public generally, but more especially 1727 by those who a few years ago thought him unfit to exercise the franchise. In considering the principle of a Bill of this character it is desirable we should take into account the ills from which the agricultural labourer is suffering, the cause of those ills, and the probability of the Bill effecting a cure, or, at least, affording some relief. The agricultural labourer is suffering from want of occupation at a remunerative wage, and the immediate cause of that is the inability of the farmer to pay a fair wage under present rents of agricultural land. I think hon. Members on the other side of this House will scarcely dispute the first of those two propositions after the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture on introducing the Bill, and I feel morally certain that the right hon. Gentleman will sooner or later tell us that he is convinced of the truth of the second proposition. I shall be told in this House, as I am often told out of doors, that the wages of agricultural labourers are higher than they were a few years ago. That is true; and it is equally true that rents are somewhat lower, and there, I think, we have cause and effect illustrated. But the question that we have to consider, in viewing the condition of the agricultural labourer, is not whether his wage is higher now than at some former period, but whether it is now high enough to enable an intelligent, steady, and industrious able-bodied man to maintain himself and family in decency and comfort, and to make some little provision for old age. That such is not the case at present must be known by everyone acquainted with rural life. In our villages we find men who, after working honestly and well for 50 or 60 years, and who during that time have done their utmost to save, are compelled to husband out life's tape by a pauper's pittance. In the Division I have the honour to represent the number of such cases is very great. If the House will bear with me I should like to mention one by way of illustration. Samuel Atkins, of Great Easton, was 75 last November. This man began work at the age of 7 and ceased at 72, having been in the employ of one farmer for 30 years. 1728 When he attained to man's estate he earned 7s. per week, then 10s., next 11s., and at last 12s., but never got higher than that. He is described to me as having always been a steady, industrious, careful man, who worked honestly and well for 65 years without a chance to save a penny; now he is rewarded by the parish with 2s. 6d. per week and a loaf, is called a pauper, and is, in consequence, deprived of some of the rights of citizenship. Out of his 2s. 6d. per week he pays 1s. for rent and 9d. for coal, leaving him 9d. and a loaf for a week's subsistence. Hon. Members may wonder how the old man manages to exist, and I will, Sir, with your permission, use his own words—When I get the loaf home I cut it into seven pieces, so that I may not eat too much on any one day.That is the reward of 65 years of incessant toil. Can the House be surprised that with such an object-lesson before them every young man of that countryside with a spark of manhood in him decides to try his fortune elsewhere? Hence the exodus from our villages, and the necessity of considering how to prevent it. That is the problem we have to face, and however unpalatable the process may be, the reality will have to be laid bare. It is no use to blink the fact that the man who puts his strength into the cultivation of the soil is justly entitled to a fairer share of the produce of his labour, and will have it or go elsewhere. I am afraid that the heart of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill will not warm towards me when I say that a reduction of 5s. per acre on the 32 million cultivated acres of the United Kingdom would enable farmers to give 4s. per week additional wage to every agricultural labourer in the country. This Bill is ostensibly introduced for the purpose of obviating the depopulation of our rural villages, consequent upon the state of things to which I have referred. But is there the remotest probability of its having that effect? I think not, True, the Bill may set up a few men in business as small holders, but they will not be agricultural labourers, nor will it touch the great mass of the labourers. They cannot 1729 save a quarter of the purchase-money of a small holding—men whose only outlook is "a blessed prospect to slave while there is strength, in age the workhouse, a parish shell at last, and the little bell tolled hastily for a pauper funeral." But without compulsory power of purchase the Bill will be a dead letter. We are told that there is plenty of land for sale in the country. That may be; but it is in estates or whole farms, and no Local Authority will have the means of purchasing an estate or even a single farm for the benefit of one village without crippling its resources as to the remainder of the county. The Local Authority will have to deal with small quantities of land in many localities, and landowners will not sell such parcels of land except at exorbitant prices. Indeed, some of them seem to regard Public Bodies as fair game. We have recently had some experience in Leicestershire. The Corporation of Leicester needed some land belonging to an owner who has a seat in another place. He demanded £250 per acre for agricultural land and £5,000 for personal inconvenience. Fortunately, the Corporation had compulsory powers, and the noble Lord got a little less than half what he asked. But under the Bill the Local Authority must have paid him £250 per acre, which would have entailed a rent of £8 per acre, without allowing anything for law and official expenses or for "personal inconvenience." But even with compulsory powers, the impoverished agricultural labourer is not to be converted straight away into a thrifty small holder. Ownership of a small holding is the top rung of the labourer's ladder, and to keep his head when he gets to the top he must have ascended step by step. An allotment close to his cottage at a fair rent, with fixity of tenure, compensation for improvements, and a greater latitude as to extent, under the control of a popularly elected Parish Council, constitutes the first round of the labourer's social ladder. As he ascends, he will be learning the art of small culture. But more than that; when he finds himself provided with wheat and potatoes, ranged in sacks around his dwelling, enough to make it certain that, come what may, his 1730 family will not starve in the winter—when he realizes that, he will become less and less the miserable dependent and more and more a man prepared to give a fair day's toil for a fair day's pay. With fairer wage will come the ability to save. Then those having an aptitude for farming will most probably invest their savings in small holdings, and so establish upon safe economic lines a race of small holders, who may or may not realise the anticipations of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. I do not care what effect small holdings will have upon the political opinions of the people so long as they are prosperous. In conclusion, I would say that landowners need not fear the making of this measure too liberal or wide in its scope. They had better do with a good grace what will be demanded later, and delay will only increase the amount of what the right Hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham used to call "ransom." I heartily thank the House for having listened to me. If I have spoken warmly it is because I feel deeply the sufferings of those amongst whom I live and who sent me here, and because I think that the country has not yet realised how necessary to its welfare is the preservation and contentment of our peasantry. When it does that, I venture to say the measure now before the House will be swept away as obsolete, and the regard for landowners' privileges will have become less tender. I feel that this Bill will not give the agricultural labourer much benefit; but I also recognise that it will not do him any harm, and I shall, therefore, vote for the Second Reading.
§ (7.35.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
I think the discussion of this Bill has chiefly turned upon three points; and, although those points have been touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian and others, I will venture to put before the House a few more considerations which I think bear upon them. The first thing that was said in objection to this Bill was that the administrative authority was too large—that instead of being the County Council it ought to be the Parish Council. I by no means object to the 1731 formation of Parish Councils in certain places where sufficient work can be found for them, and where there is sufficient administrative power in the parish. But I would ask the House to consider a practical objection to this proposal in the case of an ordinary-sized parish. If the Parish Authority were made the authority to deal with this Bill, the outcome would be inoperative, and very much for the reasons spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian and the Leader of the House. The area would be too small for the purpose of raising sufficient money to guarantee the payment of the interest. That would of itself be a reason why the authority in London, the Public Works Loan Commissioners, would hesitate to advance any considerable sum of money upon such security. Another reason is this. In a great number of parishes you would have such petty jealousies and such differences amongst the inhabitants, that the work would not be seriously taken in hand at all. To purchase 50 acres of land at £50 an acre would alone require a sum of £2,500, and that would be a very large sum for a small parish to engage in raising. Then you would have the Parish Authority, probably comprising most of the leading small tradesmen in the parish, probably the butcher, the baker, the tailor, and the bootmaker, and, in sea-coast places, some of the fishermen. And the person who would apply to the Local Authority for a small holding might be the village publican. Now, that Parish Council would meet, and they would have to decide whether they should borrow this money or not, and, one by one, they would come to the conclusion that it would be an exceptionally nice thing for the publican if they did what he wanted, but that they could not quite see why they should be charged in order to give the publican this great advantage, when they themselves would also like to be set up in business. And I believe for that reason they would, almost unanimously, postpone it to such a day that probably the application would not come to life again, and possibly years would pass by, and the probability of giving a holding to the man would cease. Another thing touched upon by the right hon. Gen- 1732 tleman the Member for Midlothian was, how you can, with any reason at all, go to the landlord and ask him to remove a tenant from his tenancy of, perhaps, the best piece of ground on the estate, to make place for another? You would be asking the landlord to turn out A to benefit B, and at the same time charging B for the advantage to be conferred on A. A great deal has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford about the iniquity of a landlord owning a whole parish, because, probably, if he was appealed to, he might not willingly give up his best field. I see no great crime in a man holding land if he has come by it honestly, either by purchase or succession. I, for my own part, see no difference between the man who owns property in the shape of a small parish and the man who owns a street in London or half-a-dozen shops. The cases are precisely the same. What would be the probable reply of this man to an application to turn out, say, his best tenant for the benefit of someone else who wanted the shop to set himself up in business? If you wish, therefore, to make this Bill practically inoperative you will hand it over to Parish Councils. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian spoke of an intermediate authority. I know of no intermediate authority unless it is the Sanitary Authority. One word on the subject of compulsory purchase. We have had some slight experience in some parts of the country of the difficulties of carrying out compulsory purchase under the Allotments Act. And I myself have had experience of it too, and know the force of those difficulties. I do not hesitate to say if you adopt that course you will at once have greater difficulties to face than you have now. Compulsion means delay, delay means expense, and expense means additional rent. In this Bill the whole cost of delay, of valuation, and so forth must ultimately fall upon the man who rents this land, or who becomes the possessor of it in some other way. Those who have gone through an experience such as I and others have in reference to compulsory purchase will remember what these expenses are likely to be 1733 and what the procedure is. In the first place, there are notices to be served by the Clerk of the Council, who will charge extra fees, as that may not be part of his statutory work. Those notices will be served upon another authority, who have also a clerk and who may engage a solicitor. Then there are advertisements, the fees of clerks, the payment of solicitors, valuers, and arbitrators, the cost of conveyance, and possibly the cost of opinions of counsel upon various legal points. All these things will add considerably to the cost of the transaction, and they will add in a way that would not occur if the purchase were made by friendly agreement. A great deal of land could be bought by friendly agreement between the landlord and the Local Authority that will, if you put compulsory powers into this machinery, become doubly costly, and the public will have to bear the cost. Every tenant going into a small holding has to pay certain expenses to the outgoing tenant, such as for ploughing, seeds in the ground, manures, and so forth. It is not quite clear to me whether this will be a charge which the tenant or the County Council will have to pay. At any rate it ought not to be overlooked. You may have to deal with trustees or with a rich landlord, who can and will afford to fight you to the last, and your expenses will be astonishing. Then may come a time when the parish will find itself in great difficulty, because it will have great expenses to pay. In the case of the County Council being the Local Authority the expense will be spread over the county, and they will be able to bear that expense better; but in the case of the parish it will be an overwhelming expense for ever. I would point out one alternative to the House. The County Council will have to rely upon local information with regard to the suitability and value of ground. My idea is that these proposed purchases might be inquired into by Inspectors under the Local Government Board in much the same way as when money is applied for by a Local Authority for sanitary and other improvement works. I am of the same opinion as has already been expressed—that is, that these expenses and the risk of losing 1734 this money ought not to come out of any local taxation. This is money which is advanced for the benefit of the community at large, and ought to come directly from the Imperial Exchequer, and local taxation should not be made answerable for any risk. There is one more point, whether it is advisable to allow small holders to become actual possessors of the land on the payment of some small nominal rent. There is a great deal to be said on both sides of that question. I am inclined to think it would be well if we can manage that the holding shall be transferred to the proposed tenant at a very small nominal rent. There is plenty of land in the open market for the man with money in his pocket to purchase. Why should the Local Authority go to the risk of purchasing for these men, who a short time afterwards would have the power of paying off the money, and so becoming possessors? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian condemns what I consider one of the most valuable clauses of the Act, and that is the power given to a man who is a tenant at present to become an owner. It enables the Local Authority to advance the money which the tenant himself does not possess, in order that he may become the actual owner. That is a case, I think, in which this Act will do an immense amount of good, and I say it is desirable we should encourage this class of tenants beyond everything. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, on whom do the expenses fall under this Section—Section 10? I should like to be assured that the expenses would not fall upon the country, but that the tenant would be called upon to pay them himself. Another point is with regard to valuation from time to time. We know that as a rule these men farm well, and to the best advantage, and amongst them will be found some of the best of farmers. But, at the same time, we may have cases in which a man has made a mistake, or has had bad luck. In that case the Local Authority ought to be made aware of it, and I would suggest that a periodical valuation should be made of these farms by the County Council in order that they may get rid of the 1735 tenant if necessary, or before absolute damage is done to the holding. In addition to that, there should be some provision whereby the Local Authority would have power to enter upon land in case harm is being done to the neighbours by bad or dirty farming. In conclusion, I would simply say one word from the point of view of the public who are not directly benefited by this Act. We must be just before we are generous, particularly when we are dealing with other people's property. Many of those who are called upon to pay the possible expenses under this Bill are men not in the same position as the small holder himself. Those men, perhaps less well off, have to pay poor rates, and it is out of the poor rates that this money will have to come. Those cottagers do not receive the full benefit of the poor rate in the same way as their richer neighbours do. They do not use the roads, and in a variety of other ways, whilst they are called upon to pay the same poor rates, do not derive the same benefit from those rates as their richer neighbours, Therefore, on behalf of those men who will have to find the money, I hope that no unnecessary risk will accrue to the ratepayers if this Bill passes. We must remember that we are passing this measure not only for our own satisfaction; not simply for the good of those who are to enjoy the benefit of it, but that there are those who will look to us to put in their hands a practical working machine. I hope nothing will be left undone to make this Bill in every respect a satisfactory and practical measure; and, if that is done, it will confer on those for whom it is intended immense advantage. It is not going suddenly to make men rich; it is not going to make agriculturists of men who know nothing of agriculture, or to make two blades of grass grow where but one grew before; it is not going to bring back men who have gone into our towns; but my idea of the Bill is that it will prevent boys going away from our villages; they will be employed in the village when youngsters, they will be learning their trade, and will be less likely to leave their parishes for the towns.
§ (7.55.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (, &c.) Leith
It is not difficult to 1736 imagine a case for the creation of a small holding in which the expenses will be so large as to make the purchase a very unprofitable operation. But, I do not think it is in the least necessary to suppose that the field next to the farm will be taken, or that the best field will be taken. And I think the operation may be carried out to a very considerable extent, as the hon. Gentleman opposite has pointed out. The question of compulsion on the landlord has been adequately dealt with. But there is another side of the question—that is, bringing compulsion to bear upon the tenant. In Scotland tenants under a 19 years' lease very often have a greater advantage than the landlord. It must be supposed that where there are long leases the Act cannot be put in force till their termination; the proprietor might be perfectly willing to sell the land, but the tenant on lease would not let him do so. Therefore, I think compulsion on the leasehold tenant is as important as compulsion on the landlord. In England, under Lord Cairns' Act, the owners of limited estates can sell for the purposes of the Bill; but that cannot be done in Scotland, and must be provided for. I have heard of the Lincolnshire custom; if that means that the tenant has an interest in his holding he will require compensation, and provision must be made for that also. The necessity of the holding being of £25 value before a house can be erected is a blot on the Bill; we ought to encourage the erection of houses, and the limitation should be one of area rather than value. This Bill will supersede a great part of the Crofters' Act in the Highlands of Scotland, and, if it be made sufficiently comprehensive, it will enable the same agrarian law to be in force in the Highlands as in the rest of Scotland. The creation of small holdings in the Highlands, however, will not be undertaken so long as this limit of £25 remains in the Bill, and I shall in the Committee move that the limit be one acre instead of £25. The limit of an acre would secure that each house should have a fair amount of garden round it, and prevent the crowding together which is the great disadvantage in many villages. As to 1737 the question of quit-rent I think where the County Council buys the land instead of selling the freehold to the tenant they should give something in the nature of the Scotch feu. The discussion before the Town Holdings Committtee showed how complete is the right the feuer enjoys notwithstanding the restrictions imposed upon him. The superior can enter under a town and extract the minerals, and allow the town to tumble to pieces without the inhabitants being entitled to any compensation; there are also restrictions as to the character of the buildings and so forth. I think the County Council should be entitled, in making a feu, to retain the minerals, and the right to re-enter on the land if it were required for building or other purposes. A peasant proprietary anywhere is none the worse for having certain restrictions imposed upon it, and being subjected to a certain amount of regulation. An hon. Member, speaking of the valuable land round towns, suggested that the principle of compulsory leases should be there applied. This would be specially desirable for promoting the establishment of small dairy farms in the vicinity of towns, by keeping out a small holder who might become a speculator in building land. The Scotch County Councils ought to have the title of land and sub-feu it with the power of re-purchase for Certain purposes. This system of compulsory leasing is the only method by which, in the Highlands of Scotland, you can give an extension of common outlands, which is very desirable. Compulsory leasing might be very desirable on the smaller sized holdings; the larger sized holdings might be created more upon the system of purchase. I think there is a provision in the Bill enabling the County Council to make improvements on the farm. The less the Councils have to do with buildings on holdings the better for them and for the ratepayers. The only way to carry this out is to give the tenant, under loan, sufficient assistance to enable him to do it himself. One cannot support too strongly the proposition of Lord Thring that payment of succession duty should be made in land; that would be a step in the direction of simplification of title. 1738 This House does not object to make the transfer of land easy, though the House of Lords takes rather a different view, but I hope it may yet be possible the House of Lords will accept the Prime Minister's invitation to adopt some better system of transfer. I am glad the Government have recognised the depopulation of the country, and I hope that with the experience gained under this Bill we shall be able to take further steps in the direction of attracting population back to the country.
§ (8.45.) CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
One or two Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, in their anxiety to criticise this Bill, have suggested that the Government are not honest in their desire to benefit the agricultural population. That was the distinct suggestion of the Member for East Northampton; but I think we may at once dismiss any ideas of that kind, and look at the provisions of the measure. The discussion has been mainly on these subjects: the absence of the compulsory clauses the question of tenure, and also the further extension of leases. First, with respect to the objections which have been taken to the restriction which is placed upon £25 holdings, various suggestions have been made; and I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to weigh the criticisms which have been passed on this matter, may not be indisposed to consider favourably the possibility of removing the disability that he has imposed. Some Gentlemen have taken exception to Clause 10, which enables the authority to advance money to a tenant in present occupation, with a view to enable him to become a purchaser. I think that is a most valuable provision. It has been said that this is the Ashbourne Act extended to England, and an exaggerated view of the case may, perhaps, present it in that way; but I think the principle is a good one, and that in practice it would be found to be very useful. Whether it would have any considerable effect is another matter. Undoubtedly, in my part of the world the farming classes would very much prefer to be yearly tenants instead of purchasers, but I can offer no opinion with respect 1739 to other parts of the country. The reason of that is perfectly familiar. The farmer, if he became a purchaser, would have to spend money which he might employ in other ways, and for which he might get a larger rate of interest. Coming to another point, I am disposed to think that the County Council, which has been placed in this Bill as the body to carry it out, is for some purposes the best authority that could have been found, but I think the useful purposes are of a more limited character than is suggested by this Bill. For the purpose of the purchase of land and for the sale, the County Council is nominally adapted. Their credit is higher, and they can make better terms than any other Local Body; but when we come to the purchase of land for the purpose of letting it, that is another matter. I regret that my right hon. Friend has hardly gone far enough in this matter, and I think a scheme should be formulated by which the parishes should become possessed of a certain quantity of land for the sole purpose of letting it again; and if that principle can be carried out, we shall gain a very great advantage. After a lapse of time the parishes would be deriving an income which might be devoted to the relief of the poor, or to any other object which local necessities required. This would have another advantage, for it would be found that the rents charged by the parishes would become a valuable standard of the rents which private owners may get in times to come, and the parishes would invariably exact good rents. Another argument in favour of this idea is that the County Council is too large and too distant a body. I see that later there is to be an Instruction moved to carry out this idea, but I think the mistake the hon. Member who moves it will make is to endeavour to reform the system of Local Government by alterations in a Bill which is devoted entirely to the purchase and sale of land. I have considerable sympathy with the proposal to give such power as I have indicated to the parishes; but I have no sympathy with a proposal, which I think would be unfair to the Government, in a Bill of this nature to try to 1740 introduce reforms in Local Government. I thought it might be very simple in Committee on this Bill to make some Amendment by which the idea I have mentioned could be carried out, by constituting the parish as the authority; but, I am bound to say that, on looking into the matter more closely, I found that it would require four or five clauses—at any rate, a considerable number of clauses—even for the simple operation of giving to existing vestries the power I have spoken of; and, with my knowledge of the House, and my knowledge of the feeling of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin), gathered from his public speeches, I have come to the conclusion that it would be scarcely worth while to trouble the Committee with clauses designed to carry out that object. Nevertheless, I do not hesitate to press an my right hon. Friend that if he, during his period of power, can establish a system which ultimately will have the effect of giving parishes power to obtain land, and again will place revenue ultimately in their hands which may be devoted to parish purposes, for the good of the parish, I think he would undoubtedly mark his tenure of office by an act which would be of the greatest use, and would never be forgotten throughout the entire country. Since I have been sitting in the House this evening, I have seen another reason for not proceeding with the clauses I thought of attempting to draw to carry out the scheme I have suggested to the House. I marked that an hon. Member opposite, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Gladstone), who both favoured Parish Councils, also favoured the idea that all the financial part of the work must be undertaken by a more powerful authority than such councils. If you do that you abandon the revenue that ought to go to the parish ultimately. It is quite clear that if the county rates are to be appropriated for the purpose of purchasing land for a parish, that ultimately the money must go back to the County Authority. Perhaps the most interesting part of the discussion upon this Bill has been that part which has been specially pertinent to the tenure of land. My right hon. Friend 1741 to some extent only has adopted the plan of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings) with reference to keeping part of the purchase money as a first charge on the land. My hon. Friend the Member for Stamford (Mr. Cust), who spoke early in this Debate, seemed, I think, to have missed the point of the advantage of keeping a certain amount of the purchase money as a charge upon the land. I take it that everybody in the House, no matter who he is, thinks that land purchased in this manner should be kept for the purposes for which it was specially designed for all time, that is to say for agricultural purposes, and I do not imagine that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin) at all wishes that at the expiration of the 50 years it should be within the power of some holder who has been created by the Bill to sub-divide or to sell. Nobody has suggested that they wish to see that, but my hon. Friend who has just spoken on the question said that power might be reserved without keeping a certain portion of the purchase money as a charge upon the holding. I think that is a mistake altogether. If a man has a fee simple of his land—and I think the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Mr. R. T. Reid) answered that point very well—you cannot, except by Statute, interfere with his possession to prevent him from sub-dividing or re-selling for any other purpose. But if we are to have a condition of any sort attached to these small holdings, surely the simplest and the best way, as suggested by the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. J. Collings), is to keep a portion of the money as a first charge on the land. I am inclined to think that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin), when he gives more consideration to the matter after the discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill, will be almost disposed to admit that his own object will be best carried out by in some form or another adopting the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bordesley, and keeping some of the money as a perpetual charge on the holding. Does my right hon. Friend notice this also, which is an additional argument? The hon. Member for Bordesley himself pointed out that 1742 since the county must hypothecate its revenue to some extent for the good of individuals it is only fair that after a lapse of time when the greater portion of the purchase money is to be paid off, that the interest on the balance of the money left should go to the county to a certain extent, as a consideration for the hypothecation. But it goes even further than that surely. In the Bill, as my hon. Friend has got it, I am afraid it is almost a deadlock under these circumstances. The County Council buys a fee-simple. It is going to sell a limited ownership. There is a clause in the Bill which insists that the County Council shall only sell land for the amount of money which will cover the amount expended by it in purchasing the land, but surely you cannot expect to get as much for a limited ownership as you get for a fee simple. If you buy a fee-simple and sell a limited ownership you cannot expect to get as much as you paid, so that unless that restriction is to some extent modified I do not see how the Bill is likely to act, because, of course, these transactions in the County Council will be public, and be known to everybody, and I apprehend the intending purchaser will think twice before he gives as much money for his limited ownership as he knows the County Council gave for the fee-simple. Therefore, is not that argument in favour of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bordesley to keep a portion of the purchase money perpetually on the holding, because then the interest of that purchase money for all time would flow to the county, and would be a make-up for the difference between the amount given for a certain quantity of land, and the amount for which it sold the land on a limited ownership. I undoubtedly think that the interest upon the deferred payment is a very just compensation to the County Council, not only for its hypothecation of a part of its revenue, but also for the actual loss which I can see it will have to submit to for a certain term of years. I will not enter on the question of compulsory purchase. It has been argued at considerable length by Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and I shall content myself with saying that, personally, I am opposed to compulsory 1743 purchase on principle. I think it is a bad principle to introduce. I think it will create friction in the country, although I do not think that it would have much practical effect. I do not think it would matter two-pence whether compulsory clauses were in the Bill or not. Still, I am opposed to it on principle. I think it is an unsound principle, and certainly it shall not have my support. On the contrary, I shall give it all the opposition I can. There is one other subject I have to mention to my right hon. Friend, and that is the question of leases. I cannot for the life of me see why my right hon. Friend has an objection to the County Council taking land on lease. It is a very different thing taking land under a voluntary agreement on lease to taking land under a lease compulsorily. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House I think was quite correct in his reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian upon the question of leases, subject always to the condition that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian was speaking of compulsory leases. Of course my right hon. Friend was quite correct when he said it was much more unfair to take from a landlord on a compulsory lease some portion of his land, seeing that you would prevent him from capitalising that portion of his possession for a definite time or perpetually. But a voluntary lease is a different matter altogether. I do not see what objection there is to the County Council agreeing with a landlord to take some portion of his land for 20; 30, or 40 years, and using it for their own purposes, and I hope my right hon. Friend will try to see his way to introduce a clause to prevent compulsory leases, agreeing as I do with the Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin) that they would work very great injustice to people who own land. There are many points we shall have to discuss later on in Committee. On some of them I trust we shall persuade my right hon. Friend to go further than he has gone, and on the others I shall be a great supporter of his in resisting encroachments of hon. Gentlemen from the other side.
§ (9.14.) DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
To use the expression employed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) in regard to this Bill, I look upon it as an honest attempt to solve a difficult question and improve the condition of the agriculturists, and to use the phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill (Mr. Chaplin), I regard it as an experiment which ought to be tried, and for which I venture to predict a certain amount of qualified success. It is a contribution to the solution of one of the great problems of the present day, how to keep our country friends and neighbours more attached to the soil. Although it has been doubted from the other side of the House in a speech by an hon. and gallant Gentleman, the flow of people from the country to the towns has been going on. We want to bring the people back to the soil and to fix them there under reasonable conditions. I have spoken to a great many friends and tenants in the country, and they all tell me the same story—that they cannot get their boys and their girls to remain there. They know the discomforts of country life, and they have vague yearnings for the ulterior advantages which they think can be derived from flowing into the towns and congesting the towns. We want to very much increase the comfort and happiness of the agricultural labourer's life. We want to see him better housed, better fed, and have more opportunities for amusement and improvement. Above all we want to give him an inducement to make agriculture the career of his life. I am very much in favour of smaller farms in the country. It is a great pity it is not compulsory that landlords should break up big farms into small farms so as to give opportunities to the agricultural labourer. This Bill is a step in the right direction, though it is not a complete step. I look at it from the point of view of those people with whom I am more immediately concerned—the agricultural labourers and the farmers of Scotland. Amongst many of them I find there is no desire at all to purchase land. The idea of becoming a proprietor is not popular amongst them. With better 1745 conditions of tenure and better compensations for improvements, in my part of the country at least, the small farmers and the agricultural labourers who are looking forward to small farms are very much more content to remain as they are now. They say they have to sink their capital, and to pay a very much larger rent than if they were leasing the land. There are family difficulties, and the farm has to be broken up at death. Improvements have to be made, and then in bad times the holder has no one to help him. I should like to see the County Councils enabled to help the small leaseholders of the agricultural labourers' stamp by means of loans to stock and perhaps to build. The landlord nowadays rather dreads the small farm system. They dread it on account of the expense of building. Under modern conditions they must build very much larger buildings than formerly. Some provision of the kind I have referred to would induce proprietors to break up their large farms into small, and would give the agricultural labourer a better opportunity of gaining that home and that career and position he wants. As to the present Bill, I think the principle of compulsion must be applied if we desire to make the Bill a practical one. All the indications from my part of the country are very strongly indeed in favour of compulsion. If the landlord is willing to sell, compulsion will do him no harm. If he is not willing to sell, then it is in the interest of the small class of people whom the Bill was to encourage. We have been told that a great deal of unsaleable and uncultivable land could be palmed off by proprietors and others under this Bill. But I think we might very well trust the County Councils not to abuse their privileges in this matter. As to the position of the farmers, it is their interest to keep beside them steady workmen who are attached to the soil, and who are always available for agriculture. The great blot on the Bill is the limitation as to building on 25 acres. This provision makes the Bill entirely useless to the North of Scotland. Many people who are likely to become small holders are doing work in various ways. A man may wish to have ten or 20 acres. He cannot ab- 1746 solutely live upon the ground, though, under present conditions of market gardening in Scotland, many people have been able to make an extremely good living. But small tradesmen, shoemakers, and blacksmiths ought to be encouraged to settle down on the land and to build, if they can, themselves or with some help. I am not inclined to view with the same dissatisfaction as some others the machinery. I do not quite know what other machinery can be employed at present than the County Council. The formation of a committee which would include practical men is a fairly good working arrangement, by which local knowledge will be brought to the aid of the central body that commanded the funds. I look with a certain amount of suspicion on the municipalisation or resumption idea which we have heard something about recently. I think it would be a very deterrent influence on anyone who wished to buy land if, at any future period, when the land became more valuable, he should be liable to be summarily evicted and thrown absolutely out of the land. I do not quite see why this proposal is necessary in the interests of the general community, because the County Councils will probably work the Bill not at a loss. If the scheme is to be successfully applied, we ought to remove as many restrictions on ownership as we can. If a man wants to invest his money on land to a small as well as a large amount, he wishes to do as he likes. There are several drawbacks and restrictions which I think, at all events, would deter a cautious people like the Scots from investing their money on land under the conditions in this Bill. The Bill is not a perfect one, but it is an honest attempt to solve a difficulty. No doubt when it goes info Committee such a Bill will be produced as will do something to rectify the condition of things, which we know require a remedy, and which, I think, might fairly be remedied under the Bill.
§ (9.28.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants,) Basingstoke
I have observed that a number of hon. Gentlemen are trying to persuade the country that this Bill will have no effect without compulsory power. I think those hon. Gentlemen 1747 will find when the Bill is passed there will be an ample and sufficient supply of land in the market for all wants. It has been found so under the allotments scheme. There is no want of land now. I wish to say that if you have this compulsory power you will be doing a great injustice to the farmers and the small owners. It has been truly said that land suitable for small holdings would be in the neighbourhood of villages, and it must be remembered that such land at the present time is always quickly let. Therefore, if you take land from one of these farms you will do a great injustice to the struggling farmer and the small holders of land near the villages. Suppose a man has land near a village, are you, on that account, on a petition from a few people in the village, to carve these small holdings out of it? It would do a great injustice to the one man, and confer, perhaps, illusory advantages on the others. I do not wish it to be understood that I am against small holdings; but I should be sorry if this Bill, instead of creating small holdings, gave rise to a number of land speculators. I am sure no one would like to see that, and I believe this is one of the great arguments against the exercise of compulsory powers. My experience has been that small holders are constantly desiring to get rid of their land. In my own part of the country a man who was earning a livelihood was left 20 acres of land with a small house upon it. He went to the holding, and without any knowledge of farming, and without much money, he tried to make a living upon it; he is now in a state of starvation. There are many such instances in which small holdings attract men to the land and they fail. Some people say that the reason why they cannot make a living upon such holdings is that the holdings are too highly rented. I can only say that in my part of the country the rents are very low indeed. I am afraid that small holders will not be able to make a living out of the land, because it takes so much money to stock it. Labourers are so badly off that I am afraid they will not be able to take advantage of this Bill. Therefore, I think that one of the most important provisions in it is that which 1748 gives to County Councils the power to take land and erect buildings upon it, and then let it to labourers. If this clause was put into force—although it might be too much to throw upon the County Council—I believe it would be of the greatest benefit to labouring men, and enable them by hard work and industry to get a livelihood out of the land without travelling into the great towns to the detriment of those who are there already, and to the injury of themselves and families.
§ (9.45.) SIR W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
This Bill is professedly a measure to bring about a wider distribution of land in this country, and check the depopulation of the rural districts. Such objects should have the cordial support of all Members of this House, whatever their political opinions. I hope, however, that that portion of the Bill which restricts the erection of houses on smaller plots of land will be altered so that the restrictions which I think the right hon. Gentleman has unwisely introduced may no longer exist. In the County of Hampshire, in the New Forest Division, there are striking examples of the fact that where there are a number of small holdings, there the population increases and pauperism diminishes. The evidence before the Select Committee strongly supports this experience, and therefore any measure which would be likely to bring the people back to the land deserves support. I was very much surprised to hear the comparison which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House between the condition of the French peasant and the English agricultural labourer. If the condition of the French peasant had not been better than that of the English labourer, France would have been still under the heel of the German Emperor instead of being able to pay off the vast indemnity exacted by Germany. It was from the French peasantry that the money came in the hour of distress. We have no similar class of population in England; I should be glad if we had—that it might be able to do for this country, if required in the time of need, that which the French peasantry did for France. The power of producing food both in France and Belgium is considerably greater than it is in this 1749 country, when the respective populations are considered; and, that being so, everybody must be anxious to improve the food-producing power of this country. Now I find that the people to be benefited by this Bill are divided into three classes. First of all, there are the persons who buy the land; then there are the existing tenants, who are to be enabled to become owners of their farms; and, lastly, the labourers, who will be enabled to obtain larger allotments. Now, I think that that section which will have the effect of enabling labourers to obtain allotments is the best part of the Bill. I should be glad to see the limit of £10 rental extended, so that these people might become in time tenants on larger plots of land, even up to 20 or more acres. Then I think that the advantages offered to tenants in Ireland under the Ashbourne Act might well have been extended to enable the existing tenants in England to become the owners of their land, without exacting any lump sum at the time of purchase. I would also say that I am not satisfied with the authority which is to be appointed under the Bill—namely, the County Council. There is a desire in various parts of the country to give the powers to the Urban Sanitary Authority; but I am sorry that some scheme has not been devised by means of which authorities over smaller areas could be called in, so as to secure a more intimate knowledge of the wants of the people than can possibly be possessed by County Councils. In the matter of the Allotments Act, some County Councils do not act sympathetically. Some labourers in Kent the other day appealed that the Act might be put in force. A Commissioner was sent down to make an inquiry. He held the inquiry in a public-house, with no reporters present, at twelve o'clock in the day, when the labourers could not attend. Now, that is not the way that County Councils should carry out the Act. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will insist upon the inquiries being for the future held openly, and at an hour suitable to the agricultural labourers. Now, Sir, as regards the question of 1750 compulsion, I may say at once that compulsory powers are not wanted for the purpose of harassing the landowners. We want them for the purpose of preventing land being unnecessarily forced up in price when owners refuse to sell land for the purposes of public benefit. If land is forced up in price there will necessarily be a failure of this scheme. That is shown by the experience of the operation of the Allotments Act. Some time ago I obtained from the Secretary of the Local Government Board a statement which showed that in a number of cases where land had been bought by voluntary agreement under the Allotments Act, an average price of £90 per acre had been paid. That would be a prohibitive price to pay for land to be let out to agricultural labourers, if they are to make a profit out of their holdings. It is clear to me that if voluntary sale alone is to be available, the price will be too high for the agricultural labourer to pay. Then, Sir, if we have not these compulsory powers we shall likewise have this difficulty, that land will be sold in too big parcels. It will be a question of buying a whole estate if the landowner wishes to sell, and not merely the portion required for the purpose of making the experiment. In these big parcels of land there would be many lots unsuitable for small holdings. The Bill apparently anticipates some such result, for in one of its clauses—I think in Clause 8—it says that if the land is unsuitable or superfluous for the purpose for which it was acquired, it may be sold. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture should be unwilling to give us these compulsory powers, because in 1886, in introducing his Allotments Bill, he avowed himself a convert to compulsory powers. If, Sir, in a Bill of that kind, to let out land in half-acres, the right hon. Gentleman proposed compulsion, surely in this larger Bill it is much more necessary that we should have compulsion. Now, Sir, there are only one or two other points. The Government call this Bill an experiment. It is, to a certain degree, an experiment, and I hope it will be a successful experiment. 1751 I have very little sympathy with the movement for the creation of small freeholders, and I think it will be most difficult to re-create the yeomen—a class that was exterminated by the operation of natural forces. They existed mainly because the common lands of the country were unenclosed, and, to enable them to exist again, you would require a recurrence of the economical conditions under which they flourished. I would rather see this class replaced by tenants under a Local Authority with a fair rent and secure tenure, or as tenants quasi-owners, if you like, with a perpetual quit rent. There is no guarantee that the small free owners will not be swallowed up again by the larger owners, and large estates again created. I hope the Government will seriously consider the question of allowing the land to be let by the Local Authority on a quit-rent, never to be redeemed, in order that the unearned increment may go to the community, and that the County Councils may keep a grip on the land, and, if necessary, resume possession of it. We want this Bill to be effective in its operation, in order that the agricultural labourers may be able to live on the land under conditions of independence and comfort such as their forefathers have never known.
§ (10.15.) MR. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
I quite agree that it is most desirable that the labourers should be made better off and their lives made happier; but I am afraid it will be many a long year to come before there can be any considerable increase of happiness from any attempt of this sort to place the labourer in the position of an owner as well as in the position of a farmer. For many reasons, I fail entirely to see where the labourer is to get money to buy the stock necessary to the working of his holding. One hon. Member said the Bill was not up to sample, meaning that it was not so good as he expected after the speech of the Minister of Agriculture, but the Minister of Agriculture said the Bill would only be an experiment, and we should be very unwise to weight it with compulsion. It will be time to adopt compulsion when it is proved that a measure of this sort will make that happy change in the condition 1752 of the agricultural labourer that is predicted. But I think what has to some extent been lost sight of during this Debate is this: I think it is of the first importance that if we are to get these labourers or rural people to take land as owners, that we should do our best to cheapen those legal costs that always occur when land changes hands. One of the principal reasons why we have not so many small holders in various parts of the country as we ought to have is when a man has tried to get land these legal expenses have run the price up to such a point that there was no prospect of his getting a profit out of his investment for many years. It is a disgrace to this Assembly, containing so many lawyers as it does, that at the present day the legal expenses attaching to the transfer of land in small pieces are practically prohibitory. I hope that before long we shall do something to cheapen the purchase of land. I want a promise that this matter will be dealt with. We have heard a good deal about the happy position of the French peasantry from the other side of the House. I think that was answered most fully by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. I was very pleased indeed to hear him say that many of these French peasants are not in such a happy position that we could take our English people over there and say that is the position we should like to see you in. I should be very sorry to take the villagers in my own neighbourhood over to some parts of France, and say, "We want you in that position." Who is there in this House who has been to France, and has seen ploughing for example carried on in the fields there, who would venture to compare it with our system of ploughing? I have often seen a half-starved donkey and a poor overworked woman side by side drawing a plough or harrow. Am I to go down to my constituency, and tell my people that I should like to see our labourers' wives and daughters working side by side with a half-starved donkey? I am fully aware that there are many Members of the House who know as much about agriculture as I do. But, speaking of France, I may mention that I have re- 1753 sided in that country four years at a spell. During the Franco-Prussian war I had the privilege of being sent over to the very peasants whom we have been told are so well off. My colleagues and myself were sent to distribute relief to these very peasants. The society which I had the honour to represent distributed about £80,000, and that was only one of many societies in England that did similar work. From what we have heard to-night one would be led to think that the money was not wanted—that the peasants were humbugs. I do not believe they were humbugs, but that they were really poor, as they represented themselves to be. We are generally agreed as to the Second Reading of this Bill, and the details can be adequately discussed when we get into Committee. But I would like to ask the Minister of Agriculture a question in reference to a provision in Clause 1, Sub-section 1, which says that the persons for whom small holdings are to be selected must be residents of the county. I would ask the Minister of Agriculture if that is really vital to the Bill? If the persons from whom small holders are to be selected are to be limited to residents of the county, cases of very great hardship might arise. There might be the case of a man who had got plenty of money, and who was in every way suitable for a small holding, but who would be deprived of the advantages of this Bill just because he happens to live over the road, and so was not in the county in which the piece of land he wanted to have was situated. But that is a point also more suitable for discussion in Committee than it is now. The only other point that I will touch upon now is whether we should allow the small holder under any circumstances to free himself of all monetary responsibility in the holding, whether we should allow him to be in the position simply of being a small freeholder who could do what he liked with his holding. I am afraid if we allow the small holder to pay off the balance of his purchase money, all the trouble of the County Council and the sacrifices of the farmers, landlords, and ratepayers will in too many cases be useless. In respect to the population of our villages, we are just as 1754 anxious to keep our villages filled with a respectable, happy, and industrious population as you gentlemen in towns are anxious to have the towns in the same flourishing condition. We want industrious, healthy, strong labourers, and these small holders will be just the families from whom we shall get the best class of labour for our farms. I hope no one will think there is any wish to put any obstruction in the way of a fair trial for a measure of this sort. But I do think if we allow these small holders, after having made a bargain with the County Council, to become absolute freeholders, then we shall find that all the trouble which has been taken, and the sacrifices which have been made, will be in vain, because the small holder will have the power of selling his holding when he is in difficulties or wishes to raise money, and in the long run we would be no nearer the goal we have in view than we were when we started.
§ MR. DUFF (Banffshire)
There is one point with regard to compulsion which has not been sufficiently brought before the House, i.e., in the case of settled estates. It might be competent for any gentleman holding a settled estate, if the County Council came to him and said, "We want your land," to say "I will be very happy to give you my land, only the conditions of my estate prevent me from doing what you want." I should like to see these settled estates put in the same relation to the County Council as Railway Companies. A Railway Company passing through an estate takes the land by compulsion, and I should like to see the County Council put in the same position. It is said that would be hard upon the tenant. But that also occurs in the case of a Railway Company. I do not think this Bill will have much effect in its main object of creating small holders to any great extent unless something of that kind is done. In the first place, you have to compensate the tenant, then you will have to buy the land from the landlord, and then the County Council will have to erect buildings. After that will it be possible to let the land to advantage? In my part of the country, if a landlord wants to resume 1755 possession of his land, he generally has a clause in the lease by which the tenant is compensated. I do not think there is any fear under the Compulsory Clause of the tenant being unfairly dealt with. I have often known cases in Scotland where a landlord was not allowed to let his land for building purposes. There has been a good deal said about the legal expenses of getting land in England, but they are much greater in Scotland than they are here. I remember some 30 years ago, when I succeeded to my property, I had to spend a very considerable sum before I could get the land to let for building purposes. But if compulsory powers were put into this Bill, you would get over this difficulty. If the buildings to be put up are suitable buildings, and if they are erected under conditions approved of by the County Council, I cannot see why you should not put up buildings even on an acre of ground. If that is within the scope of the Bill it would meet one of the greatest evils we have to contend with, overcrowding of labourers dwellings, and in that way it might be possible to do Something to relieve the overcrowding which exists. The hon. Member for Bordesley said the object was to encourage a man to purchase a piece of land for a house in which he and his family could reside, and I agree with him. I do not think this Bill will be taken advantage of by the purely agricultural labourers. The people who will take advantage of this Bill will be men who have come from the towns—retired tradesmen and others—who have come from the towns and desire to take two or three acres of land to build a house upon. Much more will be done in that way than by the purely agricultural labourer. I do not believe the land hunger of this country is confined entirely to a desire to cultivate the land. There are many people living in towns who desire to get land to live upon; and if this Bill can do anything to promote this object, it will be very beneficial to the community. I should be very glad to see this Bill take the place of the Allotments Act in Scotland, where no Bill of the kind is in force. It is constantly said that a great deal of land is in the market. 1756 That is perfectly true, but it does not come to the market in quantities which poor people can buy, and even the legal expenses are quite disproportionate to the value of the land acquired. The more numerous the people are who reside in the country the more will that benefit the agricultural labourer, because you find, other conditions being similar, that wherever holdings are small the agricultural labourers' wages are proportionately high. Therefore, the more people you get on the land the better will it be for the agricultural labourer. I have no doubt hon. Members are well aware of what is going on in their own counties, but, in reference to London, I may say there is a great desire of people in the East End to get to the country. Let any hon. Member take a railway journey from Fenchurch Street to Southend, and, before he has gone 25 miles from London, he will see land which has gone out of cultivation on both sides of the line. I went down on Saturday to the county of Essex to see an experiment being tried there by Mr. Varty, which has some bearing on this question. He bought this estate of 250 acres last September, and cut it up into very small lots of 1–14th of an acre, and a man might buy one or half-a-dozen lots. He has now sold nearly a quarter of the land. The great inducement held out to purchasers is that they get a title to the land for one shilling, and there are no other legal expenses. They pay ten per cent. of the purchase money down, and the whole is paid off in 16 years. I was told that, after making roads and paying legal expenses, Mr. Varty had a very remunerative return for his money. The land was apparently good land, such as would be sold at £15 or £20 an acre. This could not be done in all parts of the country, but the scheme is worthy of the attention of the House and of imitation in many parts of this Bill. The last speaker said that if you could get over the difficulty of a cheap title the scheme of small holdings would be facilitated. If individuals can carry out this experiment with perfect safety, surely it can be done by any County Council which will exer- 1757 cise ordinary caution. I have no doubt that in the neighbourhood of large towns you will get plenty of men to take these small holdings and build their own houses, thus relieving the towns and improving the condition of the people in rural districts. It is in the direction of assisting those who have acquired a certain amount of capital, whether farm labourers or anybody else, that there is the greatest possibility of doing good by the Bill. I do not believe that the Bill, if applied only to the rural districts, with the object of putting labourers on small holdings, can be worked profitably. In the neighbourhood of towns I think it it may be beneficial in doing a great deal in the direction of securing a wider distribution of land and the erection of an improved class of labourers' dwellings, and, on that ground, I have great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ (10.45.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
It is evident from the remarks of the hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (Mr. Gray) that he does not much believe in the success of the experiment made in the Bill. I agree with him. I wondered why the Government brought in this Bill, but the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury has shown us the reason. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill has always held that in agriculture large production, large farms, and large estates were the most productive form of cultivation, as you got more return at the minimum of cost. I see the First Lord of the Treasury still believes that.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I still believe that in agriculture, as in other things, the expenditure of large capital on labour is the best means of getting large returns.
§ DR. CLARK
I believe you get a better return by spending more on labour: and in small holdings you can put in proportionately more labour and capital. We do not believe that the creation of small holdings will sink the agricultural labourer in penury and poverty. We might distrust the Greeks when they bring us gifts of this kind, and distrust the Tories when they attempt land reform. We 1758 now know that the object of the Bill is not to place labourers and small peasants on the soil as cultivators, but to create an outpost, a Mameluke Guard, to protect the big landlords against the attack which some of us are making on them. I admire the frankness with which the right hon. Gentleman told us that one result of the Bill would probably be protection. If you want to give the small agriculturists a chance, and so give them a tenure which would be good for them, the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) is the best and easiest way to do it. The Scotch feu may be described as the oldest form of tenure in the world, where you have a superior and inferior. It is desired that the increased value of the holding should go to those who earn it. If you take the land on a perpetual lease at a fixed rent, any increase in value will go to the County Council, because their tenure is not to be perpetual at a fixed rate, but with a varying rate according to values. They will get these values and so will be able to lessen taxation. You cannot try the experiment with a penny rate: that is absurd. The cost of making roads and boundaries, and building outhouses will require more than a penny rate to meet it, and if you add to that the cost of purchase you will require a great deal of money indeed. The best way would be for the County Councils to spend the money on the improvements, thus increasing the value of the land and of their security. I shall fight against the creation of a new set of landlords. We desire to see perpetuity of tenure in order to induce men to put more capital and labour into the land, and get the most out of it which it can produce. The Scotch system is a good one, and we get better returns than is the case in England, because we have 19 years' leases. While the school to which I belong is willing to give perpetuity of tenure to the cultivator of the soil we are not prepared to create new privileges and monopolies for another class. There is a legal fiction that there is no private property in England; but, as a matter of fact, the landlords in 1759 England have as much control over the land as those in any other country. The rents represent the value of superior soil and of desirable sites, buildings, and other improvements on the land. The value of the soil and the desirability of the site are not created by any man, and if you make a change in the system of land-tenure, a man should be called upon to pay to the community the difference between the economic value of the soil and of the desirability of the site. That might be done by the means suggested by the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. J. Collings) which would enable future changes to be made more easily. If the Government desire to create a new class of landlords we will do our level best to prevent them doing so; but if they desire to create a new system of land-tenure and so get rid of some of the difficulties of the old system we are ready to give them our support.
§ (10.55.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN, Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
If it be true that the hon. Member for Caithness has failed to gather anything as to the reasons for the introduction of this Bill from the observations which I made in introducing it, I am afraid that nothing I could say to-night would add to his enlightenment, and therefore, with the permission of the House, I will pass from the hon. Member to make some general observations on the Debate which has taken place on the Bill. I am not aware that, with the exception of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, which has already been dealt with by my right hon. Friend, anything which has occurred or has been said in this Debate requires any lengthened intervention on my part at this stage of our proceedings. On the contrary, I venture to think I shall express the general sense of the House when I say that with one or possibly two exceptions this Debate has been conducted throughout with a general absence of Party spirit which has been as welcome as it is, most unhappily, unusual, and with an evident desire on the part of speakers on both sides of the House to promote the improvement of the Bill, and the object which we 1760 all have at heart. It is true that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. H. Gardner) and the hon. Member who resumed the Debate to-night were unable, in spite of all their efforts, to conceal what I should describe as an under-current of snarling hostility towards the Party responsible for the Bill; but, with these exceptions, I am bound to say the Government have no reason whatever to be dissatisfied in any way with the general conduct of the Debate. It is in the same spirit that, while reserving to myself the full right to form my own independent judgment, I shall be ready to consider and deal with the various suggestions that have been made in the course of the Debate. In the first place, may I turn to some observations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, as to which I wish to add a few words to those which have fallen from my right hon. Friend? The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to state that, in his opinion, this was an honest effort in the right direction, but far short of the necessities of the case. He considers it defective as regards the area of the Local Authority; he is of opinion that there should be subordinate Councils to deal with the question of the provision of land, though I did not gather quite clearly from the right hon. Gentleman what the constitution of these Councils should be. The rest of the speakers on the side of the right hon. Gentleman were strongly in favour of compulsion. With regard to the acquisition of land, he laid down the proposal that the tenure of land by the County Council without owning the fee-simple is not to be excluded. I do not find it quite easy to follow the right hon. Gentleman in that part of his subject, but my view is this: If the acquisition of land by lease is also to be by compulsion, then I think the right hon. Gentleman is confronted at once by a most formidable objection, an objection which ought to have been formidable in his own eyes from the statements which he made and the course he adopted in this House not a week ago, although I cannot help thinking that that objection escaped him this afternoon. You cannot have 1761 compulsory leases without adopting, at the same time, a system of valuation of rents. A lease cannot be compulsory so long as you allow the landlord to impose a rent which may be altogether prohibitory. ("Hear, hear.") Hon. Members below the Gangway say "Hear, hear," but they must remember that I am criticising the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. You must remember that the system of valuation of rents is a cardinal and essential principle of the Irish Land Bill, and it was against that principle that the right hon. Gentleman voted not a week ago; and it was against that principle, as I reminded the House the other night, he specifically declared, some years ago, that, so far as he was concerned, he would never be a party to consent to it. If, on the other hand, the land is to be acquired by lease by voluntary means, I admit the case stands, as far as the owner of the land is concerned, from whom the land is to be acquired, on a totally different footing, and my objection, so far as the owner is concerned, would disappear altogether. But that system is open to all the objections which I took the opportunity of pointing out on the introduction of the Bill, and not one of which has been answered in the course of the Debate. I pointed out, in the first place, that you would make the Local Authority into a middleman at once, and would subject them to all the vicissitudes and chances of a landlord's position, and that pressure would be put upon the Local Authority precisely as it is on the landlords to-day. Further, the present object of the Government—namely, the adding to the number of the owners of the land, would be defeated altogether. And then there is a difficulty as regards buildings, to which I will draw attention for a few moments. If the land is to be let by the Local Authority to tenants, it must be let obviously either upon yearly tenancy or else it must be let on lease. If by yearly tenure the tenant could not be expected to erect the buildings, and you will throw upon the Local Authority all the onus and all the necessity of that very important and difficult work, for it would be in the hands of the Local Authority a 1762 matter of much greater difficulty than in the hands of a landlord. If, on the other hand, the small holding was let on lease, then it is perfectly true that if the lease was of sufficient duration the tenant could make the buildings himself. But surely, under these circumstances, would it not be far better and more preferable in the interest of the tenant that he should acquire his holding by purchase from the Local Authority? for every year he would be approaching nearer the time when, if he had originally purchased, both the land and the buildings which he had erected would become his own instead of reverting to the Local Authority. Hon. Members will, I think, be disposed to admit that some reasons have been advanced by the Government against this system, to which the right hon. Gentleman attaches so much importance, of leasing land instead of acquiring it by purchase, and it must be fully considered before the Government can be expected to adopt this view of the case. Turning now to observations made by various speakers in the course of the Debate, the Member for West Sussex pointed out that under the 1st clause of the Bill the provision of these small holdings was to be limited to the labouring population. But it is not a true interpretation of the clause to think that all people would be prevented from having the enjoyment of these holdings except the agricultural labourers themselves. I do not quite know why you are to draw the line at the blacksmith or the small trader, as at various periods of the year all these labour in agriculture, and must be classed as part of the agricultural population. For instance, during harvest time, how many people are there in a village who are not actually engaged in agricultural labour? I do not think the hon. and gallant Member has any cause to be alarmed with regard to that provision of the Bill, especially when I remind him that it was taken verbatim from the language and phraseology of the Allotments Act in force at the present time. The suggestion was made to me that, instead of the money being lent upon the security of the rates, it should be entirely provided from the Imperial Fund. I quite understand 1763 the motives and object of that proposal, and I am ready to admit that, logically, the demand is perfectly, right, because this Bill is introduced in support of what is held to be a national object, and on that ground the hon. Member has maintained that it should be supported by national funds. But there are two considerations which the hon. Gentleman will find to be of great importance. It would clearly be impossible to provide funds for this purpose from Imperial sources alone, and yet to leave the administration of that to the Local Authorities. Whoever bears the cost must also have the responsibility of the administration of the measure; and if I adopted the suggestion which has been supported by several speakers, it is quite clear that this Bill which I am now asking the House to read a second time must be administered by some central Government Department. Not only would that involve an entire re-construction of the Bill, but I should have to ask myself this question, whether a central Government Department will be suited in any degree for carrying out a measure of this kind? I doubt very much whether it would be possible to adopt such a suggestion, and I am sure it would not be desirable. On the other hand, if the imposition of 1d. on the rate is viewed with alarm, I venture to think, for reasons which I will submit, that the alarm is not well founded. In the first place, Clause 11 of the Bill provides that the Local Authority shall not acquire land save at such a price as they can fairly expect will enable them to recoup themselves. In the second place, no difficulty whatever can arise except in the case of the failure of the holder of the land, and in that case the Local Authority would have not only the security of the holding itself, but the additional security provided by the sum which is required to be paid down in the first instance, amounting to one-fourth of the whole. Thirdly, there is nothing whatever in the Bill to prevent the Local Authority from charging the small holder interest in reasonable excess of the terms under which they have borrowed the money themselves. Therefore, there is no substantial ground for alarm lest there 1764 should be a permanent charge of 1d. on the rate. The Member for Stamford, whose able speech was listened to with pleasure on both sides of the House, suggested that Succession Duty in future might be paid in kind; that is to say, that a person succeeding to an estate might discharge his Succession Duty by offering so much land in lieu of cash. The suggestion is not new to me, and I frankly own that there is something attractive, and even fascinating, about the proposal. It could be carried out in one of two ways. The land could either be handed over directly to the Exchequer, or it could be handed over to the County Council. With regard to handing it over to the Exchequer, we are confronted with the difficulty that what the Exchequer requires is cash and not land, and if the Succession Duty is paid in land who is to take charge of that land and manage it until it has been converted into cash? It would mean the creation of a Government Department whose business would be to hold and manage this land till the time arrived when it could be sold. The State probably, under these circumstances, would become the owner of a great number of small holdings in all parts of the country differing in size and character and entailing a great difficulty in properly dealing with them. It would have to manage and cultivate these lands until they were disposed of. I do not say that it would be impossible even to do this; but, at all events, it would be an undertaking of enormous magnitude and importance—one which certainly could not be entered lightly upon, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have a good deal to say before he gave his assent to it. The second alternative is that the land should be handed over to the County Council, and I ask this question, is the acceptance by the County Council to be optional or compulsory? If it is to be optional, then I do not see how or in what respect the position of the owner of the land is improved, because he can go to the County Council under existing circumstances and offer the land; they can take it if they please and the owner can take the money and hand it over to the Exchequer. But if, 1765 on the other hand, it is to be obligatory, what is the position of the County Council? They may have already satisfied all demands for small holdings in the district over which it holds jurisdiction; but a landowner dies, and his successor, who has a large duty to discharge, comes to the County Council and insists on their taking over 500 acres. What is to be done by the Local Authority? I think the House will see that, attractive as it may be, the suggestion is full of difficulties, and it certainly is not one that I should like to endeavour to incorporate in this Bill. The Member for Stamford also made a suggestion that some means of registration should be established by the Bill. That is a point which I own I should be glad to see in the Bill if it were possible to incorporate it; but I have approached it with caution, because I thought it might lead to serious opposition, and perhaps be the means of defeating a measure which I am sincerely anxious to pass. But if I find that in the course of the Debate in Committee there is anything like a general desire that this proposal shall be included in the Bill, I shall be very glad to entertain and consider seriously any proposal that is made. I was asked whether in the case of life owners and settled estates the land could be disposed of for small holdings. That is the case. They can be sold under the Lands Clauses Act and the Settlement Act of Lord Cairns, and I do not think any amendment is required in that matter. I am also asked whether the amount the Bill insists upon being paid down in the first instance could not be reduced. That is a matter upon which I would rather reserve my opinion at present; but I should be ready to consider any reasonable suggestion, always having due regard to the security of the Local Authority. Another point which has been criticised is the limit which is imposed by the Bill on the erection of a dwelling house on a plot of land of less value than £25 a year. Especially from Scotland great objections have been raised to that provision; and, in my second speech on the First Reading of the Bill, I stated that that was a point upon which I was not 1766 specifically pledged, and I should be ready to consider any suggestion that was made. To that declaration I adhere now. I now come to the only point which has been treated in this Bill as of a Party character, or rather the one point in the discussion in which the opinions of hon. Members have been divided on strict Party lines. The Member for Ilkeston reminded me that some years ago I introduced a Bill dealing with the question of allotments which embodied the principle of compulsion. He said, that being so, why do you object to compulsion in this case. The reason and the answer are quite clear. There is a complete distinction between the two questions which I have never attempted to conceal. Allotments are a proved and ascertained benefit, but nobody in this House, unless it be the hon. Member for Bordesley, has ventured to go further in regard to the question of small holdings than this—that it is an experiment which we think it right and desirable to try. I cannot conceive why, with regard to an object which we treat solely as an experiment, we should adopt, in this Bill, a principle which certainly would give rise to ill-feeling, would create much friction, and would be calculated far rather to raise difficulties than to smooth the path and the future working of this measure. Moreover, I believe it to be wholly unnecessary. There are ample means of making an experiment without insisting upon the principle of compulsion. As, however, we are to have a future discussion upon this subject I take it as a matter of course that an Amendment will be moved in this direction. I think it will be for general convenience if I reserve until that occasion whatever more I may have to say on the subject. Objections were raised by a great number of speakers, and by also the right hon. Member for Midlothian, to the County Council as the authority. I do not propose to say anything further on that point because I think it was quite sufficiently dealt with by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury. A good deal has been said as to the desirability of maintaining for all time to come a quit-rent, whereas in the Bill 1767 it is provided the quit-rent shall be redeemable; but I see no reason at present to change my opinion on that point. A question has been raised as to the power to repurchase a small holding at any time by the County Council. That is a proposal to which personally I take the strongest objection. I think, in the first place, it would tend to defeat the main object of the Bill. I cannot conceive anything more likely to deter intending purchasers from the purchase of small holdings than the knowledge of the fact that at any time in the future, especially when the holding became more valuable, it might be resumed by the Local Authority. Then the power to re-purchase carries with it the power to raise the rent. I should rather say to raise the interest, because it might well be in the power of the Local Authority, by this proposal, to say that the land had increased in value and they intended to repurchase it, and having re-bought the land they might sell it a second time, and at an increased price.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
What is the public good? The Local Authority might take one view of the matter and the unfortunate small holder another. I cannot help thinking that too much importance throughout the whole of these Debates has been attached to the advantages to be derived from these proceedings by the Local Authority. I honestly confess the main object I have had in view has been the advantage of the class who we hope and believe will become the owners of the small holdings in the future. I am a little surprised as to the cry for restrictions. I recollect the time, not so very long ago, when free land used to be one of the most popular and, perhaps, one of the most powerful cries amongst hon. Gentlemen opposite. But now, when I propose to create a number of freeholders, these gentlemen come forward and try to shackle me with every kind of restriction. The hon. Member for Ilkeston contrasted the amount of produce grown in France and Belgium as compared with this country, and drew dis- 1768 paraging comparisons between large farms on the one hand and the small farms on the other, very much to the disadvantage of the large one. All I know is, that the evidence of a gentleman exceedingly well versed in this matter—Major Craigie—differs entirely from the statements of the hon. Member. It is quite true that in Belgium the number of cows which are kept per square mile are in the proportion of 70 to 36 in England. On the other hand, cattle other than cows are in England 58 per square mile against 51 in Belgium. As to sheep, there are 322 maintained per square mile in England against 32 in Belgium. England returns an average of from 28 to 29 bushels of wheat against an average by Belgium of 24 to 27. As to potatoes, we grow in England 252 bushels to the acre; Belgium only grows 164 bushels. As to potatoes in France, the amount grown in four or five farms in France compared with a similar number in England was about three tons to the acre as against 6⅓ tons in England. I do not point out this evidence in any spirit of hostility whatever to the class of holdings which I am seeking to create, but I think it only right to say a word of warning to the House, and through the House to the country, that they should not be deceived by statements of the character to which I have referred, and which, I think, are misleading in the extreme. There have been many points raised in the course of the discussion, some of which I hope to be able to meet in Committee, although there are others which it will be my duty to resist. We have had a full discussion on the merits of the Bill, and I think the time is come when it might be read a second time, and I hope the day is not far distant when, with the general assent of the House, we may be able to pass into law a Measure which will receive general approval, and if it does not do all that is expected of it, will do something for that class in whose interest it has been introduced.
§ (11.32.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I would point out to my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate that we are placed in an exceptional position in Scotland. We have had an 1769 Allotments Bill and an Amendment on the Allotments Bill for England, and the other day we passed an Allotments Bill for Ireland; bringing Ireland into the same position as England. Some years ago we dealt with the crofter counties; but, in regard to allotments nothing has been done in the Lowlands and the chief counties in Scotland. I think we ought to bring Scotland into unison with the privileges given to England and Ireland in this respect. I am quite satisfied the Scotch constituencies will not be content unless they are placed in the same position as the counties in England and Ireland. I am aware that allotments in Scotland are not of so great importance as in England. Still they are important in certain districts, and in those districts, at least, we might have an opportunity of giving allotments to the same class and under similar conditions to those which will prevail in England and Ireland. I may be allowed to acknowledge, which I do with great thankfulness, that the right hon. Gentleman has in various ways said he will approach the Committee stage with an open mind. In regard to Scotland he has given us reason to believe that he will yield certain points which we think important. The whole discussion on this Bill is one which lends itself to Committee in a very special way, and in the hope held out that we shall have a very full discussion, I think it unnecessary to detain the House beyond stating the single point in regard to Scotland.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, it seems to me it is perfectly clear that the right course to adopt is to extend the Allotments Act to Scotland instead of making this Bill applicable to allotments as well as small holdings. In regard to the question of the hon. Member for Peebles as to pasture lands, it is quite clear that the Bill, as drawn, applies to pasture as well as well as arable holdings, and will fully meet the object which I understood the hon. Member has in view.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.