§ [THIRD READING.]
§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
Before we pass the Third Reading of this Bill I should like to make a few observations regarding it. It has yet to pass through another place, and many Amendments may be made in it which at any rate will not be against the interests of the landlords, but taking the Bill as we find it I should like to say a few words on it. First of all, how far does this Bill really remedy the acknowledged grievances of agricultural tenants in England and Scotland, and how far is it a proper redemption of the many promises and pledges given by the Government and their supporters at the last General Election and other times with regard to this subject? To deal with the second question first, I think I am within the mark in saying that the passage of this Bill is a very long-deferred and very inadequate redemption of the promises and pledges given by hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite on this subject. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members who sat in the last Parliament that there was no subject more frequently brought forward by the Conservative Opposition than the interests of agriculture and the grievances of agricultural tenants. In every session during the last Parliament an Amendment to the Address was moved by a leading-member of the Conservative party, and not content with that, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South-east Essex moved the adjournment of the House on this subject. All these Amendments were supported by Gentlemen then on the Front Opposition Bench, and no one was more strenuous 533 in supporting them than the present President of the Board of Agriculture. The General Election came, and what was the position then? If there was one subject on which the Unionist party harped, it was the neglect of the agricultural interest, and that the only remedy for this was to look to the Unionist party. I do not want to hold the Government too closely to the promises of the right hon. the Colonial Secretary, although he is a very important member of the present Government. The promises he gave on various political and other subjects were so diverse and varied that it would be unwise to place too much reliance on them; but I would like to remind the House what he did say, not when in an irresponsible position, but when he was an important member of the Ministry. On 22nd July, 1895, in the middle of the General Election, he went down and addressed a large meeting in Warwickshire, when he stated that if the Unionists were returned to power they were prepared to give a scheme of land purchase to the agricultural tenants in England and Scotland. But from that day to this not a single word has been said in favour of that proposal, and not a single step has been taken by Her Majesty's Government in that direction. When Parliament met we reminded them of their promises, and they were very indignant. Now I am justified in stating that up to that time the Unionist party themselves considered that this was a question highly important and deserving the attention of the Government at an early date. What happened? On the first day of the session of 1896 the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture gave notice from the Table of the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill to give compensation to agricultural tenants. That session passed, as did the sessions of 1897, 1898, and 1899; but it was not until the present year that the Government took any effective steps to redeem the large and wide promises they had made. And in what form did they redeem them? I think their own estimate of this Bill now is very different from the estimate they had of the importance of the subject in 1896. Instead of introducing it in the last session of the present Parliament as a measure of the first importance, they brought it in under the Ten Minutes Rule; they sent it up- 534 stairs to a Grand Committee, where it was discussed for a couple of sittings ten days ago; and now, with the thermometer standing at ninety degrees in the shade, we are expected to deal with the Third Reading. That does not look as if the supporters of the Bill attached supreme importance to it, or as if they believed that it in any sense provides an adequate remedy for the grievances of the agricultural tenants. It has been stated more than once by the President of the Board of Agriculture that, after all, this Bill will only deal with 5 per cent. of the cases of compensation that arise. I do not think a Bill is of much importance which only deals with one in forty of the grievances of agricultural tenants. It was described on the Second Reading by the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Hampshire, a strong supporter of the Government, as "a small amending Bill"; and another hon. Gentleman opposite described it as "as good a Bill as could be got under the circumstances "; while the other night a no less strong supporter of the Government said of it that "if not totally unnecessary it was certainly harmless." Now, these are not descriptions by hon. Members on this side of the House, but by either the authors of the Bill or the most strenuous supporters of the Government and their policy. Does the Bill really make any serious attempt to settle the grievances that have existed among the agricultural i tenants? It will be in the memory of all that the President of the Board of Agriculture, when introducing the Bill, and before we had seen it, described it as a Bill that would settle once for all the differences between the owners and occupiers of land. When we had the opportunity of examining and discussing it in detail, we saw how very wide of the mark indeed and exaggerated that description was. I want to state to the House what were the general proposals for the amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act which were put forward by leading agriculturists, and what are the actual proposals in the Bill. I have here one of the most valuable Reports made by the sub-commissioners. Mr. James Hope, a supporter of the Government, dealing with various counties in Scotland, summarises the principal Amendments on which he said opinion was unanimous which should be made in the Agricultural Holdings Act. 535 It will be found that, at the outside, not more than two or three of these Amendments have been inserted in this Bill. But if hon. Gentlemen care to take a more simple method of testing the value of the Bill, they have only got to compare the schedules in the Bill with the schedules in the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883. They will see that the alterations are very infinitesimal, and substantially, so far as that part of the Bill is concerned, it deals very inadequately with large and important grievances undoubtedly felt by the agricultural community throughout the country. One of the recommendations held out to us in regard to the Bill was that it would very largely simplify and cheapen procedure under the Agricultural Holdings Act, and it was said: "Here, at any rate, you will have your cases decided by a single arbitrator, and no longer by two arbitrators and an umpire, which has caused so much expense in the old procedure." When, in Committee, I endeavoured to have the Bill amended so that the procedure should really be by a single arbitrator, I was told by the Attorney General that my proposal was far too drastic, and that we ought not to make a single arbitrator compulsory. I have never got any explanation from the Attorney General or the President of the Board of Agriculture as to how the procedure under this Bill is to be cheaper and simpler than under the existing Act. The actual proposals in the Bill are very inadequate to deal with existing grievances. It is, in fact, a very incomplete and insufficient measure. I venture to say that it does not deal with the grievances of large classes of tenants; and however applicable it may be to some classes of tenants in England, it is entirely inadequate to deal with the grievances of agriculturists in Scotland, while it is singularly inapplicable to the agricultural conditions of Wales, as will be shown by-and-by by Members from Wales. Meantime I will only deal with it as it affects my own country. When the Bill was considered on the Report stage I was constantly told by the President of the Board of Agriculture, in answer to my complaints, "Oh! that is only the case of Scotland. I cannot profess to know the actual conditions of Scotland." That was considered a sufficient answer to the arguments which my colleagues and I brought forward to show 536 that the Bill would not adequately meet the demand of Scottish tenants. I have often heard before that "There are hills beyond Pentland, and lands beyond Forth,'' but we would have been perfectly content to cut out from this Bill the hills beyond Pentland and the lands beyond Forth. What we complain of is, that you have endeavoured to include in one common Bill for England and Scotland subjects which have hitherto been invariably treated by separate Bills, in order to meet the separate demands and separate conditions of agriculture. The hon. Member for King's Lynn talked about legislation by reference, but. I do not know any Scottish agriculturist, and not many Scottish lawyers, who would be able to understand this Bill at first sight. But our substantial grievance is that you are endeavouring to deal here, in a single Act, not merely with purely agricultural questions, but with questions affecting the tenure of land, which are entirely different in Scotland and England. More than that, we pointed out— and nobody knows this better than the Attorney General—that there were large classes of tenants, particularly in the north-east of Scotland, who would be absolutely excluded by the terms of the schedule from getting any compensation for the substantial improvements they have made on their holdings. These are the small improving tenants called squatters. Now the First Lord of the Treasury, in the summer of 1895, speaking about what he considered to be the obligations of his party to bring forward an adequate measure of compensation, gave a very specific promise that any such measure would be applicable to small as well as large tenants in all three countries. It would affect, he said, small men as well as big men. The Government have conspicuously failed to bring forward a measure that is able to satisfy the demands of these small tenants for whom the First Lord of the Treasury pleaded in 1895, and they will for another term of years be shut out from obtaining any measure of relief. It is on these grounds of the conspicuous failure to redeem often repeated and most specific pledges given by responsible Members of the Government; of the valuelessness of the Bill to give to industrious and enterprising tenants the assurance of compensation if they put their capital into the soil, and because it will delay remedial legislation 537 for years, that I beg leave to move that this Bill be read a second time this day three months.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. Buchanan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
The hon. Gentleman seemed surprised that we should have attacked the late Liberal Government for their neglect of the agricultural interest. But what did they do for that interest when they were in office five years ago? The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that I once had the honour of moving the adjournment of the House in connection with the neglect of the Liberal Government to deal with the grievances of agricultural tenants; but the debate lasted hardly an hour, when it was closured by the hon. Gentleman's leaders. The hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture in the Liberal Ministry did not know the difference between barley and oats, and when a deputation of farmers came to him he practically refused to see them. Then, in the cud, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire introduced the death duties, which were to quench the smoking flax; and he was prompted to get up about once a month and thank God that wheat was selling at 19s. 6d. a quarter. Well, we are now taunted with not tackling the Government because they have not done more for us during the present Parliament; but we have got some concessions from the Government, and we hope the Government will do better when in office in the next Parliament. With reference to this particular Bill, as an agricultural Member representing a very large division, which extends from within sixteen miles of Whitechapel Church to the North Sea, I cannot help thanking the Government for what they have done. They have carried out the recommendations of the Central Chamber of Agriculture in 1894; they have practically 538 abolished the law of distress except in the case of the previous twelve months rent; they have taken the question of permanent pasture, which is a burning question, from Part 1 to Part 3 of the Schedule; they have simplified procedure; they have knocked off the shackles from the agricultural industry; and have so legislated that tenants will more willingly put their capital into the land than before. I have said before that this Bill is not perfect; but very few things in this world are perfect. The attitude taken up by a good many of us in reference to this Bill is "What we can get we take." I took particular care not to move any Amendment, and not to speak often, but of course that does not mean that I thought the Bill absolutely perfect. I could have made some suggestions to the right hon. Gentleman with reference to the Bill which it might have been well to have carried out. I think a man should be allowed to cultivate the soil as he likes, so long as its fertility is not impaired; that there should be no penal rents unless actual damage is proved; and that there should be compensation for continuous good farming. I congratulate the Government on having had the courage to resist certain Amendments' made by some of their own supporters, especially that proposed by the hon. Member for Newark, which alluded to the inherent capabilities of the soil. The Government very properly resisted that Amendment. If they had not done so they would have made the Bill ridiculous, and would have caused great dissatisfaction in the eastern counties, which I know well. If the inherent capabilities of the soil are high a man pays a high rent, if they are low he pays a low rent, and therefore, practically, there is nothing in it. I hope that in a future Parliament the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture will, from this side of the Table or the other, introduce a Bill to carry out the suggestions I have made. For the rest I can only say I am extremely glad that the Government have brought in this Bill. I do not say that it will be accepted with effusive gratitude, because effusive gratitude is proverbially not a quality of the agricultural interest; but I know it is a good step in the right direction.
§ * MR. LAMBERT (Devonshire, South Molton)
I regret the absence of the Minister for Agriculture, who, I believe, 539 is too ill to conduct this Bill through its last stage in this House. We will miss the right hon. Gentleman, for he is a master of the subject. If I may be pardoned by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I think that if, instead of going into ancient history and what had been done in the last Parliament, he had read the Bill more carefully his speech would have been more valuable. He stated that the law of distraint for rent had been practically abolished. Why, it is not in the Bill. When an Amendment was moved to abolish distraint I am rather afraid that it did not receive the support of the hon. Gentleman, I cannot but express the disappointment which I feel, and which has been voiced in the country, that this Bill is not more complete and effective. There is not the slightest doubt that the farming interest expected a Bill which would give them larger rights to compensation at the end of a tenancy. It makes confusion worse confounded; for any farmer who wants to know his rights under the Bill, must provide himself with a small arsenal of Acts of Parliament. We know that farmers do not, and will not provide themselves with all these Acts of Parliament; and instead of being able to know exactly how they stand, they will have to go to expert valuers, and pay them for information, which ought to have been made clear in the Act itself. A second complaint which I have to make is that the Bill does not sufficiently strengthen the agricultural tenant. I may congratulate the Agricultural Department on having exercised considerable ingenuity in drawing up a Bill of fourteen clauses, which practically does so very little. It is a Bill fairly pretentious in size, but what it does is almost absolutely nil. A change of front always takes place by hon. Gentlemen opposite, according to whether they are in or out of office. I noticed the Minister of Agriculture, speaking at a rent-audit of the Duke of Portland, said that the less legislation there was for agriculturists the better it would be for them. That was not the cry we heard at the last General Election. I think, however, he has impressed his views on this Bill, because it does so very little for agriculturists. There are two good things in the Bill. It gives the farmer compensation for laying down permanent pasture; and the arbitration clauses are good. But, unfortunately, those arbitration clauses 540 are vitiated by the poison that runs through the whole Bill—the power given to the landlord to contract himself out of the measure. We know perfectly well that the Act of 1875 was passed with contracting-out clauses, and that immediately every landlord sent notice to his tenants, saying he would not come under the Act. I do not want in the least to discourage agreements between landlord and tenant, provided the agreements are fair to the tenant. What we want is that we shall have an Act of Parliament upon which the tenant can fall back when he has not got a fair agreement. That is what we do not get in this Bill. The arbitration clauses are very good indeed, but they are vitiated by the fact that the landlord can contract himself out of them. I can quite understand that a landlord does not like to have to pay compensation at the end of a tenancy, and I know this, that the result of this contracting out will be that the tenants will be deterred from sending claims in; because if they go to arbitration and there is an appeal it runs up the costs, and that is a matter which affects the farmer more than the landlord, because the landlord has the longest purse. We are told that the tenant farmers will not sign agreements that are unfair to themselves; the only answer I have to that is that they do. It has been brought out before the Royal Commission, and has been publicly exposed in the press over and over again, that tenants sign impossible agreements in order to get into a farm. The object of this Bill is to protect the farmers from signing unfair agreements, and if they are able to protect themselves there is no reason for this Bill. But the Government recognises that the tenant farmers cannot protect themselves, and therefore have introduced this Bill for their protection. I shall be told, I suppose, that instead of farmers running after the landlords it is the landlords who run after the farmers. That may be so in some cases, but it is not so in the west of England, and the very fact that there are six or eight tenants after a farm compels the tenant to sign an agreement which is prejudicial to himself in order to get into the farm. What we want is that the tenant farmers shall have compensation when they quit their holdings for improvements they have made. There is the question of permanent pasture. I never could under- 541 stand why the tenant should have to get the consent of the landlord in order to be compensated for permanent pasture. It is well known that when a man lays down permanent pasture he cannot injure the land; that was brought out in the evidence before the Royal Commission, because if he lays it clown for a certain time a considerable amount of fertility is generated in the land which can be got out by subsequent cropping. A man might lay down permanent pasture and not succeed—it depends upon the weather and many other circumstances; but if he does succeed and adds to the value of the land, why should not he be compensated for the improvement? All I say is that you add value to the land when you lay down permanent pasture, and it should not be necessary to get the consent of the landlord in the matter, because it is impossible that the landlord could be impoverished. And if you add to the value of the land I do not see why you should not be paid for it. When does temporary pasture become permanent pasture I do not, I confess, understand. I have land which has been put down to temporary pasture, and which, having been well manured and looked after, has become very good pasture indeed. Is that to be taken as temporary or permanent pasture? There is no regulation laid down. Why should compensation be given for temporary and not for permanent pasture? That is a matter which is absolutely beyond me. Then there is the question of compensation for disturbance. I know this is a debated subject, but personally, in the interests of the smaller tenants, I advocate it. It is all very well to say that large farmers can take care of themselves and that the landlords usually act very generously to their tenants; but it is the small tenants who cannot get their grievances taken up in the local press and ventilated. It is they who have to suffer in silence, and if they offend the agent of the estate upon which they are in any way they get notice to quit, and have to go into a now neighbourhood and acquire all the experience necessary to carry on farming operations in the neighbourhood, and that is only done at a great loss and a great sacrifice. I am not, of course, speaking of honourable landlords—this Bill is not intended for good landlords, but for those who treat their tenants unjustly. The claim for compensation by the tenant is to be lodged before the 542 determination of the tenancy, but if the landlord has a claim for dilapidations, he need not claim for six years after the determination of the tenancy. That is a constant source of complaint, and the witnesses before the Royal Commission wore almost unanimous in advocating that the claims both of the landlord and the tenant, should be put in on the same day. Under the Agricultural Act of 1883 the landlord is allowed to see the tenant's claim before putting in his own, with the consequence that very often exaggerated claims on the part of the landlord are put in. Upon this point I would like to quote some evidence given in favour of the claims of the landlord and tenant being delivered simultaneously. Mr. Clare Sewell Read, whose authority to speak upon this point no one will challenge, says—Where the tenant has made a claim the landlord has made a bigger counterclaim. This in consequence of the landlord having time to consider the tenant's claim. I am sure it would be diminished by the claims being made simultaneously.And Mr. Lipscombe, the Chairman of the Committee of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, which was appointed to draw up a new Agricultural Bill, says that that was a universal complaint, and that the Committee appointed to examine into the question was almost unanimous in recommending that the two claims should be put in on the same day. We ask the Government to accept that. In Grand Committee it was proposed by the hon. Member for North Hampshire, and we want to know whose views the Government propose to carry out in this matter. Do they propose to carry out the views of the tenant farmer or of people who have no interest in, and less knowledge of, the matter? It is a matter upon which the tenant farmers feel very strongly indeed. There seems to be an alarming dread in this House of giving powers to strengthen the position of the tenant farmer. It was only the other day that we had a revolt from below the gangway, because the Government proposed to allow the tenant to plant an acre of osiers without the consent of the landlord. Then certain noble supporters of the Government woke up to the fact that that was an infringement of the freedom of contract between landlord and tenant. We have been interfering with freedom of contract all through this 543 Parliament; we did so when we passed an Act for compensation for injuries for the labourer, and why should not the landlord be bound to pay compensation for improvements made by the tenant? It seems to me that when they come to deal with the landlords the Government have a special tenderness for their supporters. This is a matter of extreme importance to farmers. I have had cases come before me of men who had been farming for a number of years, and by skill and experience and good husbandry they have greatly improved the land; yet when they leave, all the improvement goes into the pocket of the landlord. Why should that be? Those facts cannot be disputed. I can bring cases where that has occurred, and where that has taken place this Bill will do nothing to protect the man who has laid out his money in this respect, and ensure compensation for good farming and increasing the value of the holding for the incoming tenant. We do not ask that the tenant should be paid for work which does not add to the value of the land; but if improvements have added to the value of the holding, then he ought to be compensated. I regret that the Government have not accepted many of the Amendments which were proposed to make the Bill more effective and simple; bat although the Bill is ineffective and complicated, it does some little good. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, but it cannot be said to give us even half a loaf. It gives us a crumb of bread, and that being so, I cannot support my friend in voting against the Third Reading; though, at the same time, I cannot congratulate the Government upon the measure which they have brought in.
§ MR. STRUTT (Essex, Maldon)
There is one blemish in the Bill which I think the Government might rectify very well —that is its incomprehensibility. It is almost impossible for any ordinary layman from reading this Bill by itself to understand in any way what the law is. The people whose interests are affected by this Bill are not lawyers, and I think if the Government would give us a promise to bring in a Bill to codify these matters dealing with tenant right they would confer a great boon on the tenant-farmer class. They could easily bring in a Bill to join all these matters together in 544 one simple measure which would be easily understood, and which would not refer to any other measure, but would contain in itself everything necessary to enable the farmer or landlord to understand what the law is. The Bill as it stands contains the terrible blemish of making it necessary for a tenant farmer when he wants to find out what the law is to go to a lawyer. I hope, therefore, the Attorney General will give us a promise that the Government intend in a future session— as early a session as possible—to bring in a Bill to codify the law relating to the important questions of tenant right.
§ MR. ALFRED THOMAS (Glamorganshire, E.)
said that, in intervening in the present debate he wished it to be understood that it was not done for the purpose of wrecking the Bill, for as far as it goes the measure pointed in the right direction. Still less was it intended by way of a complaint against the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, in whom we recognised not only an able administrator but one also who, we believe, sympathises very deeply with the difficult and arduous position of the tenant farmer. Our object in intervening in the present debate is to emphasise our feelings of disappointment that the Government, in drafting the Bill, totally ignored the recommendations of the unanimous Report of the Welsh Land Commission. After the treatment offered by the Government to other Reports of two different. Royal Commissions, perhaps we wore a little sanguine to expect to be treated differently, and though he could not often commend them on their consistency, he could with much propriety with regard to their equality of treatment of the two Royal Commissions appointed by themselves as well as that of the one appointed by Mr. Gladstone. But, Sir, something should be said for the unfortunate individual who serves on. Royal Commissions. Take the case of one who sat on the Welsh Land Commission. The Commission commenced its-labours in April, 1893, and ended in December, 1895, some two years and nine months. They held about ninety meetings, and examined many hundreds of witnesses, and wrote out two elaborate, and exhaustive Reports. With what result? To be simply ignored. 545 Now what self-respecting man would care to sit on a Royal Commission if, after giving some three years of his valuable (or otherwise) time to the public, his labours should be treated with so much contempt as to be beneath the notice of the Government? But, Sir, if the Government think so little or nothing of the recommendations of three such distinguished men as Lord Kenyon, the hon. Baronet the Member for Swansea, and Mr. Frederic Seebohm, the people of Wales think very highly of them. The two former as representing the best type of landlord in the Principality and the latter as undoubtedly the greatest authority on land tenure in the United Kingdom, perhaps in the world. It is not to be expected that the name of Mr. Seebohm is a household word among the mass of the tenant farmers of Wales, though his face must be familiar to many of them— those who appeared before the Commission, which held meetings in every important centre in the Principality. And not a few, he had no doubt, had read some of the many works he had written, especially one dealing with the Principality—"The Tribal System in Wales." But the other two gentlemen are well known, Lord Kenyon in the north and the hon. Baronet in the south, and both highly esteemed and respected, and all three ardent supporters of the present Government. In reading the Report signed by those three gentlemen one is reminded of a long chapter in the Book of Lamentations. Undoubtedly they felt they hold a very undignified position that they should simply represent three fingerposts pointing to the direction their bolder and more enterprising colleagues had travelled and left them out of sight. Especially so must it have been to the author of the "Land Question." Though he said that those gentlemen had only pointed the way that should be traversed, at the same time, in justice to them, it should be stated that they only differed in degree and not in principle from their colleagues. It is true they used other terms.What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.Now, Sir, let us examine some two or three of the recommendations of those gentlemen. In their Report they seem much concerned that they should not be understood as advocating what is 546 known as "Fixity of Tenure." Yet in dealing with the question of "Notice to Quit" they say—We are also of opinion that whenever a notice to quit is given it should state the reason why it is given, and that whenever the reason is other than a breach of the legal conditions of tenancy it would be fair that, in recognition of the cost to the tenant of an enforced change of tenancy, a longer notice should be required than in a case where the tenant is in default, or else that in such a case the rent should be made to cease in respect of the last year of the tenancy.Then they say that in case of a tenant who has performed all conditions under which he holds his tenancy he should be compensated for disturbance. They say that the rent of the last year of his tenancy should be forfeited A very moderate proposal, but it has in it more than the germ of the principle of fixity. No doubt bolder reformers would say five or seven years. It is only a question of degree, and not of principle. Again, in the case of the "Sale of an Estate," they say—On the whole, in a case in which it is necessary to choose between the interest of the selling landlord, who naturally desires to obtain the highest price attainable for his property, and the interest of often a considerable number of tenants to whom it is more or less a question financially of life or death, we are disposed to think the law ought to lean on the side of the weaker party. And we are disposed to suggest that the equity of the case would be more than reasonably met by the provision that in case of the death of an estate owner or the sale of the estate the tenant shall be protected by law in the occupation of his farm at the old rent for say three years from the date of death or sale, except in case of non-payment of rent or the infringement of the conditions of the tenancy, which under the circumstances of the case should be stringent enough to protect the landlord from the depreciation or exhaustion of the farm.Here again, in their meek and mild way, they are advocating the principle of fixity of tenure, and in doing so they deserve every encouragement, as they are on the right line. For it is only by securing to the tenant who faithfully performs the conditions of his tenancy practically fixity of tenure, can we ever hope to see a satisfactory settlement of the "Land Question." Another bogey that frightened our three friends was the proposal of the majority of the Commissioners to set up a Land Court. To this, among other things, they say—We would suggest that if on an estate there should be what may roughly be described as a general dispute between landlords and 547 tenants tending to disturbance or public scandal or manifest injustice, both the landlord on the one hand and a certain portion of the tenants on the other hand, under proper restrictions and upon an engagement to pay a certain maximum fee, should have the right to call in to their aid an expert from the Board of Agriculture or some other recognised authority to act as mediator, with a view, if possible, to bring about a friendly settlement.Again, they advocate a new principle in the relation of landlord and tenant, and while they view with horror a properly constituted land court, yet they suggest the appointment of a go-between to settle disputes between landlords and tenants, who is to be awarded a maximum fee. While fully realising that we could not hope to settle so old and great a question as that of the relationship of landlord and tenant by the very mild proposals of those three gentlemen, we at the same time admit that there is some ground for the statement they make on the last paragraph of their Report—It is believed that were the law regarding year-to-year tenancy amended as we ventured to suggest a great step would be gained towards the removal of the feeling of insecurity and of other causes of dissatisfaction between landlords and tenants, without unduly infringing upon the principle of freedom of contract and without destroying the great advantages which, on the whole, and in spite of defects, the present agricultural system affords to the various classes of the Welsh people whose living is connected with the land.Their words prove that they had properly estimated the gravity of the situation when they said—A great step would be gained towards the removal of the feeling of dissatisfaction between landlords and tenants.Still they say it was only a step—though a great step. That is an admission that what they proposed was not sufficient, and could not settle the question. Though they only proposed a step in the direction of the solution of this great question, it was more than the Government would take in the interests of the Welsh tenant farmers. There is no class in the community so helpless and defenceless as the tenant farmer. Even the agricultural labourer has his association to defend him. But the poor tenant farmer is left unprotected to any and every oppression. While we know and rejoice in the fact that there are landlords who treat their tenants as well as ever they would be treated under any legislation, we know 548 they are but comparatively few. What we want is to bring the other landlords up to their level, and no Government which neglects the rights of the tenant farmers can be said to be doing its duty to the State in leaving the most important class in the community without safeguarding legislation.
§ * MR. GILES (Cambridgeshire, Wisbech)
I should like to call attention to the fact that whatever this Bill does is in the interest of the tenant farmer, and that it does nothing for the landlord with the exception of the small advantage in Clause 5. With regard to the criticism that this is not a Consolidation Bill, and that it would be a very great advantage to tenant farmers to have a Consolidation Bill, all I have to say is that no doubt Consolidation Bills are extremely convenient to lawyers and to those who, having no knowledge of the subject, desire to study it. But the farmers, of whom I have had experience, undoubtedly have some knowledge of the subject, and they certainly do not rely for their knowledge upon the Agricultural Holdings Acts or any Bill, whether Consolidation or otherwise. They invariably go to some text-book for an explanation of the various provisions. I do not desire to say anything against Consolidation Acts, but it is not a fair-criticism upon this Bill, which is in itself a satisfactory measure, to say that it is. not to the full extent a Consolidation Bill. The hon. Member for South Molton found fault with the Government for not passing a simple Bill giving powers independent of contract. I desire to point out in the interests of many, especially small farmers, that there is another side to that question. I may give am illustration, some of the facts of which came under my personal knowledge, in the case of a farmer, a self-made man, and without capital. He had great experience of farming, and when he found the rent he was forced to pay was too much for him he went to another part of the county and took another farm. He was enabled to take that farm because of his reputation as a farmer, and he got it on this sort of consideration. The landlord said: "If you will take this farm at a yearly rental and require no compensation from, me when you leave, the rent shall be so 549 much per acre; but if you require compensation I must forestall that possibility by charging you so much more per acre." Under these circumstances a contract was made—in my opinion very much to the benefit of the tenant farmer, who, being a man without capital, was thus enabled to take this farm and work it to the satisfaction of the landlord, and by means of the condition which he made he had to pay only a moderate rent—a rent very much below that which he would have had to pay had he insisted on all the terms of the Agricultural Holdings Act. There is another point. I contend that this Bill, even if it contained no other provision than the Arbitration Clause, would be of very great advantage to the agricultural industry. For years there has been a very great want for a clause of this kind in the relations between tenant farmer's and landlords. Up to the present time if a tenant farmer desired to get justice from his landlord he had to begin by issuing a statement of claim, which in certain circumstances involved summonses for particulars and summonses for further and better particulars; these summonses in Chambers would, perhaps, involve two or three attendances before the Judge, and possibly an appeal. That would be followed by a statement of defence, and a reply. In a particular case I have in mind this was followed by a notice of trial; the trial actually took place before a special jury at the assizes, and certain gentlemen were specially taken down to attend. The trial had not gone on very long before it was referred, and the reference took place. Each side appointed an arbitrator, the two arbitrators appointed an umpire, and a considerable number of days were occupied in taking evidence on each side. Those who know anything about these proceedings know that the expenses incurred before getting to arbitration were very serious indeed. Now, I am glad to say, although it is much against the interest of the profession of which I am a humble member, the tenant farmers can obtain justice and get their claims satisfied without any of that very heavy preliminary expense. There is one other point in regard to the clause to which I should like to call attention. Fault was found with it because of the costs involved. But by the terms of Clause 14, which deals with costs, those costs are in the discretion of the arbitrator, and if the arbitrator finds that the 550 tenant farmer has a fair claim to compensation which has not been fairly met by the landlord it will be undoubtedly his duty to award costs against the landlord, and in that case the tenant would be relieved of the costs, or the greater part of them. I am sure a great number of tenant farmers would welcome this Bill with satisfaction and gratitude.
* MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)
I think the hon. and learned Member for the Wisbech Division speaks with considerable authority when he says this Bill will be welcomed by many tenant farmers, but it will be welcomed only in English counties, not in Wales. It is a Bill which wholly fails to satisfy the pledges given by hon. Members opposite, and candidates who stood in the Unionist interest at the election of 1895 in the thirteen counties of Wales and Monmouthshire. I do not wish to delay the passing of this Bill into law. For what it is we are willing to accept it, and, for myself, I am not going to vote against it. But I think that we who represent Welsh constituencies have been a great deal too for bearing in regard to the conduct of Welsh agricultural matters by the present Government. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture is not in his place to-night. I regret the cause of his absence, and I join in the tribute paid by the hon. Member for East Glamorganshire to the courtesy with which he has invariably treated us in regard to matters concerning the Department over which he presides. But the position in Wales with regard to this Agricultural Holdings Bill is entirely special. The right hon. Gentleman himself, in the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, practically admitted that the case for Wales was distinct from the case for England or Scotland. Let me briefly recall the recent history of this land question in Wales, and the demands made by Welsh tenant farmers —demands which I understand the right hon. Gentleman and the Government say are sufficiently met by the Bill now before the House. As far back as 1843 and 1844 there were strong demands made for a reform of agricultural tenancies in Wales and Monmouthshire, especially in those parts of Wales in which the prevailing language was the Welsh language. From 1839 to 1843 there were serious dis 551 turbances in Wales, which came to be known as the "Rebecca Riots," and which were due to agrarian causes. From the time when these riots broke out down to the present there has been a persistent movement in favour of altering the law relating to landlord and tenant. It is mot so much the question whether the mere formal legal tenure is satisfactory that agitates the minds of the tenant farmers; it is the economic question of how the system is carried out. Down to about the end of the last century there was very little trouble in Wales. But about the beginning of the century, and especially after the close of the Great War, a new system was introduced, under which the landlord undertook practically to make all the improvements on agricultural holdings. That was the theory and the understanding, but the system has broken down in certain parts of the country, though not everywhere; for the tenant in many cases has to supply labour, and also do the haulage of materials—a very costly item in a mountainous country. On the whole the result was to produce a state of profound dissatisfaction among Welsh tenant farmers, and the state of dissatisfaction has continued down to the present time. When the agricultural industry, as a whole, is making bettor profits you naturally do not hear so many complaints, and there was a time when the Welsh complaints sank down because agricultural prices were so high; but the Welsh tenant farmers have never lost sight of the grievances which, having regard to the special circumstances of the Principality, are necessarily inflicted upon them. Many complaints were made in the Welsh newspapers, and, as a result, in 1892 the Welsh landlords asked the then Conservative Government to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the alleged grievances of the tenant farmers of Wales. The Government refused. In the middle of 1892 there was a change of Government; the demands for a Royal Commission were renewed from many quarters, and ultimately, in March, 1893. Mr. Gladstone appointed a Royal Commission with a designedly broad reference to consider all the questions connected with the holding, occupation, and cultivation of land in Wales. That Commission, like most Commissions, was not absolutely equal in its party complexion, but at any rate there were upon it three gentlemen representing the party 552 opposite—namely, Lord Kenyon, my hon. colleague in the representation of Swansea, and Mr. Frederic Seebohm. There were also Principal Rhys, a man who had taken no overt part in politics at all, two tenant fanners, the chairman of the Monmouthshire County Council, and myself. We did our best to inquire into the matters referred to us, and it has been entirely overlooked by our critics that the statement of facts in the Report as to the condition of things in the Principality has never been challenged by anybody. Nearly the whole of the Report is signed by all the Commissioners, and is simply a statement of facts connected with the Principality. Some may say that a number of our facts were irrelevant. ["Hear, hear!"] An hon. Member says "Hear, hoar!" What facts are irrelevant to a broad consideration of the argument? Does he contend that the history of the country has no relevancy to the question with which this Bill is concerned? If so, that is a very narrow point of view to take. If you say, "It is my first principle that we are going to have absolutely the same law for the whole of the United Kingdom," the particular facts connected with the history of any particular county or collection of counties are, of course, irrelevant. But is the adoption of such a principle as that statesmanship? Not at all. That is what hon. Gentlemen like my hon. friend opposite have failed to grasp in regard to our notion of what a Report on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire ought to be, and what the legislation in regard to land in Wales ought to be. But I will not pursue that topic, as I want to come to something which is absolutely and entirely relevant to this Bill. Having given our best consideration to the matter, we arrived at a series of conclusions, absolutely clear, very important, and which ought to carry weight with the Government and with the country. One of the first things we agreed upon was this—We have no right to pronounce on the question whether such an amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1883—That refers to certain much more drastic amendments of the Act of 1883 than are contained in the present Bill.—and of the law of landlord and tenant as to agricultural holdings is required for England as well as for Wales; but without prejudice to this question we think that the circumstances disclosed in regard to Wales by 553 our inquiry urgently call for legislation such as we have above sketched, and chat it would be expedient to deal with the case of Wales in a separate Bill for this purpose, however desirable it may be as a general rule to avoid separate or particular legislation.I call the attention of the Attorney General to that sentence in the Report. It was signed by supporters of the present Government. But I do not want to make too much of that point, because there is something more important than that. Lord Kenyon is one of the most popular and best landlords in Wales; so also is my hon. friend the Member for Swansea Town. They are both large landowners; men are eager to become tenants on their estates. This paragraph was signed by them, although their whole spirit, in a sense, was against the idea of any recognition of Wales as a separate nation. Nor, indeed, do I claim that sentence as necessarily involving any theory of a separate nationality. The point I put as a practical point for the consideration of the Government is that there are many matters within the sphere of jurisprudence which may well be treated separately. I know that in regard to the marriage laws, bills of exchange, mercantile documents, and so on, it would be very inconvenient and inexpedient to have separate legislation for different parts of the United Kingdom. But when you come to matters relating to land the question is quite different. It is right and proper, if you want to have a good economic system for the whole of the Kingdom, that the particular circumstances of counties, districts, or provinces should be taken into account by the legislature in dealing with these matters. Our first complaint against the Government, therefore, is that we are not given a separate Bill. We demand that Bill; we say that you have directly or indirectly promised us that Bill; friends of yours sat upon the Commission; they have assented to it; they applied their minds to the question; they did their work honestly; that is the conclusion at which they arrived. I am not going into minute details, as we are all practically agreed that this Bill should become law. But lot me point out what were the conclusions at which that Commission unanimously arrived. They agreed that, having regard to what took place in 1868 and years afterwards— although they would not admit that the tenure from year to year was necessarily 554 a bad kind of tenure for agricultural purposes—the unlimited right of the landlord, without any cause shown, to give notice to quit to the tenant ought not to be further maintained. Accordingly, one of their unanimous recommendations is that in case a landlord gives notice to quit to a tenant without reasonable cause, and if the tenant has paid his rent and has not been guilty of any breach of the covenants or the conditions in the agreement, there should be, in the discretion of the arbitrator, an amount allowed as compensation for capricious disturbance. That is not in this Bill. If you want to make the relations between landlord and tenant fair, the special circumstances of Wales demand the insertion of such a clause. We have made no general charge against the landlords of Wales, but at the same time, especially in regard to the smaller estates, there are evictions from time to time for which no reason satisfactory to the district in which the event takes place can be given. The result is very disadvantageous from many points of view. It disturbs other farmers on the estate; it disturbs the whole parish; it gives rise to all sorts of suspicious feelings on the part of the tenant farmers. In any case, evictions without cause are not fair in a country with the historic circumstances of Wales, where in many cases the families of the present tenant farmers have been on the same holdings for hundreds of years. I need hardly point out that it was proved, not only before our own Commission, but also before the Agricultural Commission for England, that to make a man move from one farm to another was practically tantamount to fining him 20 per cent. on the whole capital invested in the farm. I beg in all seriousness, and without any polemical intent, the Government to take notice of a significant fact like that, and that men like Lord Kenyon, and practically all the best agents in Wales, are quite willing to assent to a clause providing for compensation for capricious disturbance. The majority of the Commission adopted the theory of a land court, not at all in the sense of the Irish Act of 1881, nor did our proposed legislation create a dual ownership. On that I say nothing. We cannot expect this Government to do anything of that kind, and therefore I will not say anything in support of the general plan of the majority of the Commission. But there was 555 another practical point suggested by all the Commissioners. It was to prevent the injustice which in practice arises from the fact that the rent is often raised upon the improvements of the sitting tenant. The matter is not quite easy to explain, and perhaps the law itself is not entirely to blame, but that the injustice does take place is admitted by the three Commissioners I have named. It happens in this way. I will take one kind of case only. Supposing there is a largo estate going to be sold. The first thing that occurs is, seeing that the purchaser will have the right to demand possession, notice to quit is given to all the tenants. When the 29th September, the usual date for the expiry of the notice, approaches, no Welsh tenant dares give what he has a right to give to his landlord or the persons acting for the landlord, namely, the two months' notice under the Act of 1883 for compensation. If he did that it would be accepted, and he would have to leave on the 29th September, for the simple reason that, owing to the special circumstances of Wales, there are so many demands for these holdings; there is such a great land hunger that the man knows very well that his landlord will let him go, and that he may get something for his improvements under the Act of 1883, but to leave his farm is the very last thing he desires. It is not merely a matter of money with him, for he wants to bring up his family on the holding which from generation to generation his ancestors have occupied. After the sale has taken place and the now purchaser comes upon the scene a revaluation takes place, and the new holder naturally proceeds upon the basis of what the landlord thinks the farm is worth, with the result that rents are raised all round. I do not want to develop these points in detail, but I think I have made the meaning of this unanimous report clear. I wish to call the attention of the Attorney General to the fact that two of the greatest Welsh landlords agreed to this policy. Further we are face to face with cases where estates are heavily mortgaged and in Chancery, and in which trustees for the real owners were in possession. Here exists a state of things under which, if you do this or that, you may be running a risk of pecuniary loss. This Commission unanimously 556 recommended that there should be not a court, but a kind of public arbitration, and that there should be an arbitrator appointed by the Board of Agriculture to deal with estates in that situation. If the tenant complained and the trustee gave the answer, "I dare not comply with your request because I cannot tell what the Chancery judges may do," in that kind of case a suggestion made by the Commissioners was that the Board of Agriculture should appoint mediators or arbitrators to hear both the trustees and the mortgagees when the tenants complain. They shall then say what in their judgment is fair to be done, and the decision of the arbitrators shall be binding upon the Court of Chancery. I have only taken about three points of a definite and practical character in order to show how unfair it is to Wales for the Government to bring in a Bill of this kind as a satisfaction of the claims of the Welsh tenants. This Commission arrived at a. definite conclusion about the facts, but its Report has been given the go-by, and no doubt the Government at the next election will claim that they have passed an Agricultural Holdings Act of a highly beneficial character. But that will not go down in Wales. On the Second Reading I put these points before the House and the Government did not attend to them. We are not wild revolutionists, and we are not asking for the breaking up of great estates. The Commission recommended that the best system was one of large estates; but what we object to is allowing a system to go on which is inevitably thrusting out Welshman after Welshman. These farmhouses are the nursery of a very sturdy and vigorous race, and we want to keep these people upon the land where they have lived from generation to generation. We have no desire to introduce any ill-feeling between landlord and tenant, but the course you are taking in neglecting the Report of this Commission is one which will be fraught with disaster to the whole country. We know that the best security a nation can have is a good supply of capable citizens, and you cannot achieve that better than by keeping these old Welsh families on their land. You will not accomplish that by little Bills like this, and you can only do it by taking a broad and statesmanlike view of the whole situation.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH (Anglesey)
In the county of Anglesey between 1889 and 1893 no less than 11,000 acres of land changed hands, or about one fourteenth of the acreage of the whole county was sold during four years. I need hardly point out the great significance of a fact like that. The last speaker has reminded us that when a tenant changes from one farm to another it is equivalent to a loss of 20 per cent. of his capital. If that is so, then it is a very easy sum to calculate to find out what a considerable sum of money has been lost by the tenants of Anglesey during the four years I have alluded to. We are almost in agreement in regard to this measure on both sides of the House. I do not agree with the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Cambridgeshire who said that this Bill did nothing for the landlords. You must benefit the landlords when you give security of tenure, and thus induce the tenant to sink his capital in the soil. To encourage him to do this is to sot a premium upon industry and capacity, and this benefits not only the country, but the landlords as well. The object of the Bill is to assist not merely existing tenants, but tenants generally, and I am not in favour of dual ownership or free sale. I am in favour of any reform of the law which will give the tenant better security. Any Bill which gives the tenant greater security is a stop in the right direction. The Minority Report states that when a notice to quit was given for any insufficient reason, in that case there should be compensation to the tenant equivalent to a year's rent of his farm. I think that is also a step in the light direction, although it is too late to hope that anything of the kind will be done in this Bill. Nevertheless, I would press upon the Attorney General that he should give us some hope that the Government will see the necessity of taking some such step as this, and that when they have another chance of legislating in that direction they will bear this matter in mind. No amount of compensation for improvement is of itself enough to give security of tenure. The necessity for this exists in the country generally, but more especially in Wales, where the land is not only a financial but a social question. In Wales there is a difference of language, of race, and of creed, and we do ask this House to give to the tenant 558 in Wales some security of tenure under which anyone who turns him out of his farm will have to pay dearly for it.
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
I think the whole of this question rests upon the issue as to whether the conditions in Wales are essentially different from those which exist in England in regard to the claim for land legislation. What I venture to affirm is, that if anyone will take the trouble to inquire into the facts as they really exist in Wales he is bound to come to the conclusion that there is a real difference between the position of the two countries in this respect. In proof of this statement, I need only say that the Welsh Land Commission, after an exhaustive inquiry, came unanimously to that conclusion. The House already knows this from the conclusive arguments used by my hon. friend below me, but I would lay special stress upon their unanimity in regard to some of the most important points we have to consider. I am not going to recapitulate what has already been said in reference to the character of the Welsh Land Commission; neither am I going to describe in detail the important recommendations which they made. I should like to point out, however, that the case of Wales is substantially different in regard to its agriculture to that of England, and our claim to separate legislation in regard to land reform rests broadly upon a different historical development. Anybody who has any knowledge of Welsh life must at once see the differences in race, in language, habits, and customs which so largely prevail between the two countries, and these must have their effect upon the agricultural environments of the two countries. Anybody who has paid the slightest notice to the course of recent events in Wales must have been struck by the very rapid advance made in public opinion in recent years upon this question. So far as the knowledge of the facts of this House and the country generally goes, the development has been more or less recent, because it is a fact that during recent years Wales has had a. chance of expressing politically its mind upon these public questions. I would simply remind the House of one or two simple facts showing the depth and reality of the position of Wales in regard to the 559 question of land reform. The House will remember what took place in 1886, and upon the introduction of the Welsh Land Bill of 1891. I need not remind the House of the appointment of the Commission of 1893 which reported in 1896. But there are one or two practical facts that I should like to mention very briefly to the House, which prove the case which I am endeavouring to make. What are one or two of the practical differences in regard to Welsh and English agricultural life? First of all, there is this fact, that in Wales to-day there are fewer occupying freeholders than in England. In England they number 15 per cent. of the whole, bat in Wales the occupying freeholders only number 12 per cent of the whole. In the county of Denbigh the proportion is only 10 per cent. Therefore there exists friction between landlord and tenant in a very acute form. It is almost inevitable that there should be a more acute land-hunger prevailing in Wales than in England, when there is a clear line of cleavage between the general body of landowners and the tenants on great questions of political opinions and of religious creeds. In Wales the farms are smaller than in England; there are more applicants for them, and the country is poorer. If any hon. Member chooses to look closely into this matter he will find abundant proof of what I am saying. In Wales you will find patches on the mountain side which have been cultivated, and I venture to say it would be impossible to find such patches in England. That seems to me to prove fully that there are certain fundamental differences between the two cases. I will mention one further fact, for all these facts to my mind seem very relevant to the discussion, as showing that the Bill we are now discussing— although undoubtedly in certain respects it is an improvement upon the existing law—will not touch even the fringe of the question so far as Wales is concerned livery question in regard to agricultural reform turns upon one or two considerations. First, there is the question of fixity of tenure. During the first eighty years of this century the rents of the whole of England rose 16"3 per cent., whereas with regard to the rents in Wales during the same period they rose 69.9 per cent. This fact in regard to the greatly enhanced rise of rent in Wales, as compared 560 with England during the present century, is a fact of fundamental importance in the case we are now discussing. That is the reason why I feel that, although we welcome some of the provisions of this Bill, we should make it perfectly clear what the state of agriculture in Wales really is, and prove that Wales in this respect is in a worse condition than England. Wales has had a certain amount of relief, although only temporary, by the rise in prices, but beyond this fact the question is one of very serious moment when we realise the steady depopulation which is going on in the rural districts of Wales. Here are one or two facts which will explain the position clearly to the House: At the beginning of this century the population of Wales was about 500,000, but since that time it has increased 100 per cent. Side by side with this upward movement of the population in Wales there is this serious fact, that from the year 1840 and onwards there has been an alarming decrease in the agricultural population. I will give two instances bearing upon this fact. In a rural sanitary district of which I have personal knowledge, and where I live, there were in the year 1891 over 2,200 less people living there than ten years before, and during the last fifty years there has been an actual increase in the rural population of the country. This falls short of the natural increase by 132,000 people. This question of the draining of the population in rural districts is a very serious one. First of all it has a very direct bearing upon the labour problem, and no one who has any knowledge whatever of the agricultural conditions of Wales and Welsh life can deny that this is a very serious question at the present moment, and unless something is done of a far more drastic nature than will be accomplished by this Bill, I fear that the agricultural outlook in Wales from this standpoint is not a very bright one. But not only is this constant draining of the best life of the country through the depopulation of the rural districts a serious matter from an agricultural point of view, but it is also serious from a national standpoint. I would like to corroborate what has already been said in regard to the best life of Wales lying in the rural districts, and it depends very largely upon agricultural 561 conditions whether those people remain there or not. If you want them to remain on the soil you must make the conditions of their life more satisfactory. I feel that this Bill, though it is a step in advance, and a step in the right direction, is a very small measure. I will be perfectly frank with the Government. I must differ from my hon. friend below me in saying that I never expected them to carry out the wishes of the great majority of the tenant farmers of Wales in regard to the unanimous recommendations of that Commission. I remember very well a few months ago the Home Secretary saying that if we required legislation of that kind we must go elsewhere to get it. I recognise that fact, but nevertheless I feel it my duty, as representing a largo agricultural constituency, to say that, although I welcome this small Bill, I do not accept it as a solution of the Welsh land question.
§ * MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
I cannot entirely agree with what fell from my hon. friend who last spoke as to this Bill being altogether a very small step in the right direction. In the few remarks I shall make I shall point out that this Bill is distinctly a retrograde measure from the position taken up in the Act of 1833. At any rate, the intention of the Legislature in 1883, however defective in working out, seems to me to represent a more progressive stage of legislation, judged from the point of view of the tenant farmer and of agriculture, than the present Bill does. I have been entitled to form an opinion on the Welsh question, because the Agriculture Commission on which I sat examined a large number of Welsh witnesses as well as witnesses from England and Scotland. The Welsh witnesses were gentlemen of great ability, and some of them strong representatives of the landlord interest in Wales. I remember one witness in particular, Mr. Tennant, gave extremely important evidence from the landlords' point of view which went to establish unanswerably the general case referred to by my hon. and learned friend. I cannot quite assent to the attitude which my hon. friends have taken up in separating the Welsh land question absolutely from the question of agricultural holdings in England and Scotland. Granting the full strength of the historical argu- 562 ments as affecting the tenure of land, I cannot admit for a moment that the economic arguments or the legal and equitable arguments are at all different in the case of Welsh farmers from similar arguments in the case of tenant farmers in England and Scotland. After very careful consideration of the evidence it seems to roe that the arguments are very much the-same as those which induced Sir James Caird and other thoughtful economists and agricultural reformers to advocate muck the same group of reforms for England and Scotland which the Welsh Land Commission recommended for Wales. I wish to make my own position clear with regard to the Report of the Welsh Land, Commission, because I do not admit that any special reasons—economic or legal— exist for the carrying out of these reforms in Wales which do not exist to an almost equal or even a greater extent in some of the counties of England and Scotland. Before the House assents to the Third Reading of this Bill, as I have no doubt it will, I wish in the first place to express; my personal regret that the President of the Board of Agriculture is unable to be present to-night to bring this Bill to a conclusion, much as I differ from many of the arguments which he has advanced during the passage of the measure through the House. It seems to me that this Bill represents a large extension of the power of the landlords in this country. I do not know if the House generally realises how much greater the power of the landlords will be in dealing with their tenants as a result of this Bilk In the first place, while the Bill does not carry out a change suggested by many agricultural reformers, that both parties should have equal rights to put the Act into operation, it gives to the landlord the right to bring the whole of the claims he can make at common law into arbitration as a set-off against the claim of the tenant, and the landlord's claim can now be enforced even if it exceeds the amount which the tenant can prove to be due to him for improvements. That is a distinct and very important alteration of the law. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 the landlord could not enforce any counterclaim for a larger, amount than the amount awarded as compensation to the tenant. If a tenant established a claim for improvements of £200 under the schedule of the Act of 1883, and Ms landlord were able to set up 563 a counter-claim for dilapidations for £300 or £400, he would not be able to recover more than £200; but by the present Bill the landlord can enforce his full claim even if it exceeds the claim established by the tenant. Then, again, he has a longer period for introducing his claim. Seven days after the commencement of the arbitration he may spring any number of claims on the tenant—claims which in my opinion ought not to be sprung on the tenant at all. In some parts of Scotland and also in Lincolnshire arbitrators have held that a receipt for rent should be held to bar claims for previous dilapidations, and that estates ought to be managed so carefully that it should be the duty of the landlord to inform the tenant at the earliest possible moment if he were not properly treating the land, and that arrears for dilapidation and waste should not be allowed to accumulate, and that therefore the landlord should be prevented from springing such unlimited claims on the tenant. Then, again, I maintain that it is a very wrong thing for the Government to provide no limitation whatever after two of its members—the President of the Local Government Board and the President of the Board of Agriculture—had signed a recommendation that in regard to yearly tenancies the limit for counter-claims should be two years. The present limit is four years, and the universal demand has been that it should be limited to two years, but under this Bill the landlord would be perfectly free to set up counterclaims without any limitation whatever, unless, of course, the tenant set up the statute of limitations to bar that. That would mean at best a six years limit, and the result will be that many tenants will be frightened out of making any claim whatever for improvements by the fact that the landlord might bring in unlimited counter-claims, and so place them in the invidious position of having to set up the statute of limitations. That is placing the tenant in a very unfair position. The third point in which it seems to me that the position of the landlord is strengthened is the alteration with regard to freedom of sale of produce. The President of the Board of Agriculture has stated that he will introduce in another place some further alterations into the fourth subsection of Clause 1, but the Bill as it stands will undoubtedly place the landlord in a position in which 564 he can bar the right of freedom of sale by special agreement as to the amount of manurial return, and in the case of holdings near large towns when it has been understood that there was perfect freedom, the tenant sending on his produce and carting back manure, a perfectly fair arrangement might thus be set aside. The next point in which the landlord is placed in a stronger position than he is now, is that the parties will not be on an equality as regards the serving of notices. The main extension of the landlord's power is one, however, which I think neither the House nor the country have fully grasped the meaning of. It is rather a difficult question to explain, as I found myself when I endeavoured to explain it to some practical farmers at the Council Meeting of the Chambers in Westminster Hall. The first sub-section of Clause 2 undoubtedly gives to the landlord a power which he does not at present possess of depriving his tenant of any right to have recourse to the arbitration procedure provided under the Act. The landlord will now be enabled to insist on an agreement in regard to arbitration, not only as to the conditions under which settlements are to be arrived at, but that on his estate all disputes are to be referred to Mr. So and So. It is desirable that the landlord and tenant should be free to agree as to the scales of compensation for various improvements at the beginning of the tenancy. It is also perfectly reasonable that when claims are made for compensation for improvements at the end of the tenancy, the time and mode of payment should be settled by agreement, but there is a tremendous difference between the old Act and the Bill, because under the Bill the arbitrator is bound to have regard to any agreement that may be in force at the time. An agreement may have been entered into years and years before with out any consideration of the special circumstances under which the tenancy may be terminated, and it is not in the interest of fair and reasonable procedure we are providing in the Bill that we should give to the landlord the power of being able to say to the tenant, "There is a clause in your agreement which prevents your doing anything under the Act. You may think you are able to proceed to arbitration provided by the the Act of Parliament, but your agreement bars that, and you are absolutely at 565 my mercy." That is a very important alteration, and I may say I was profoundly disappointed when the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Hoard of Agriculture finally refused to remove that enormous power from the hands of the landlords. It seems to me that this is a "take it or leave it" Bill, and that landlords and agents will be enabled to force estate agreements on the tenants wherever they are in a strong enough position. For these and other reasons I feel very strongly as to the character of this Bill, which, if this tremendous power were removed from the landlords, might, with Amendments, be made a very useful and desirable measure. I now turn to the other side of the picture. What does the tenant get out of this Bill? He gets the right to make a garden under one acre, the right to plant an orchard, also under one acre, and the right to make osier beds under one acre. He will also get a few shillings for the droppings of his horses, which will be a most trivial compensation. Then there is also a trivial concession for temporary pasture. And even that is made wholly prospective. I put down, in pursuance of the suggestion of Mr. Clare Sewell Read, a proviso that in the case of temporary pasture, compensation would be given for the improvement if made not more than three years before the end of the tenancy; but even this concession was rejected when moved by my hon. friend the Member for North Hampshire. I should have thought that some appreciation of what the tenants of England, especially in the Eastern Counties, have done during the last years to keep themselves and the landlords going would have been shown. But no; the concessions which have been given to the tenants are really too trivial to mention. There will be no real extension of their powers under this Bill, whereas enormous powers are given to the landlords. I must say that I do wish that we had in this House a few representatives of the farming interest. That would be a very good thing for us, and I would not care whether they sat on the Conservative benches or on these benches; I would welcome them all the same. The Government have rejected many suggestions made by the Chambers of Agriculture, and many suggestions made by the Commissions; they have rejected the principle of giving the tenant freedom in carrying out improve- 566 ments suitable for his holding, and the principle that a tenant farmer should be placed in the same position as every-other temporary holder of real estate who is dispossessed of it and loses trade interests and goodwill thereby. The Government have also rejected the Amendment, which was supported by the Chamber of Agriculture, as regards the laying down of permanent pasture. It seems to me chat the tenant farmers of England, who are mainly supporters of the party opposite, have been treated in this Bill with singular ingratitude. The Government have thrown away an enormous opportunity of dealing with a great economic question which is of vast importance to the country. It was the best type of tenant farmers who during the period of depression kept the landlords going, proving that agriculture in qualified hands is a sound and progressive industry. But it is a terrible thing that, as a conclusion of all these Commissions and inquiries, and as a wind up of all the information which has been received as to the causes of agricultural depression, this trumpery measure should be the result, and that it should give increased powers to the landlords, who have done so much to hinder agriculture in the past, and should have no regard for the equitable rights of the tenants or the economic rights of the State.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
I should like to deal with the debate as far as it has progressed. It is significant to us on this side of the House that the debate should have been opened by a Scotch Member who dwells in London, and who has never owned or occupied any agricultural land whatever. Then we have had the intervention of the distinguished representative from England who has just sat down, and, in accordance with his reputation, he has spoken at great length. I cannot help telling the hon. Member, in all courtesy and all straightforwardness, that in the general opinion of all agriculturists in this country, whether occupiers or owners, inasmuch as he has not had the advantage of any practical acquaintance with the subject, he is regarded merely as an agricultural phonograph, and that agriculturists are not prepared to accept his opinions on these questions. If there is one branch of industry 567 more than another with which it is necessary that a man should have a practical acquaintance before he lays down the law, it is agriculture. We have heard nothing but groans from our acquaintance, who has nothing whatever to do with the practical management of land either as farmer or owner. He has been talking in many instances to those who have spent their whole lives as owners or farmers, and who knew the practical economic conditions of land management. The propositions which he has laid down are for the most part rotten and altogether untenable, and would never have been laid down by anyone who had not the audacity of ignorance in these matters. We have heard of the intervention of Scottish pedants, and of the agricultural phonographs, but the intervention of the Welsh Members is of another character. I welcome with all cordiality their perfectly different tone. The name oftenest used by the Welsh Members in support of their views is that of a noble relative of mine; but perhaps I have talked over this subject more frequently with him than they have, and know more of his opinions than they do. I have the honour and pleasure of being the representative of in English constituency separated from Wales only by an imaginary line. Therefore, it can well be imagined that the Welsh case has particular interest for me; and sometimes I could not help wondering whether the hon. Members from Wales have not mistaken their own case. At any rate, these hon. Members will not accuse me of any want of courtesy if I do not agree with them. Some of their arguments are difficult to understand. One hon. Member said that the loss when a change of tenancy occurred was very considerable to the tenant; but it should be remembered that the loss to the owner is just as great as to the tenant. Then something was said about the acute differences which exist in Wales, because the landlord holds a creed different from that of his tenant, the landlord being a member of the Established Church, and the tenant a Nonconformist. But we have instances in England, Scotland, Ireland, and parts of Wales where large landowners belong to the Roman Catholic Church, and yet they are on absolutely good terms with the Protestant tenants on their estates. I do not think it is a sound argument to say that in Wales there is an acute divergence between 568 landlord and tenant because they are of different creeds. We were told that one of the reasons why Wales had a right to difference of treatment to the rest of the United Kingdom was that, most unfortunately, the agricultural population there was decreasing, and that the competition for farms was enormous. It seems to me that these arguments are contradictory and self-destructive. Then a statement was made that in Wales there had been a very considerable rise in the value of the rental of land. Let the hon. Gentleman who used that argument go into an estate office and see the enormous increase in the amount spent on farms and on farm buildings by the landlords. For many years I have been an active trustee on the largest estate in Wales, and I can say without fear of contradiction that the expenditure of late years on estates in Wales has been so great as to justify, at any rate, some improvement in the rent. It is curious to me that the argument has been raised that there has been a greater demand for land than in England. Is there not something in this: that in Wales there are smaller holdings and smaller farms than exist in some portions of England? It is well known that even in England the demand for small farms is considerable and satisfactory, and the demand for large farms is often deficient. I come to another question of which I may be expected to know something. I have a warm feeling for Wales by every tie of neighbourhood and family descent. I live in the county I represent, which is only separated from Wales by an artificial line. There are several estates-partly in Shropshire and partly over the Welsh border. Now I have been told that on these estates, on one side of the river or high road, there is absolute contentment on the part of the tenants with their tenure, and absolutely none of the feelings described by hon. Gentlemen opposite. But on merely crossing the river or road you find tenants, who hold from the same landlord and on the same tenure, with a hopeless and burning desire for a change of their condition. It merely means that where the English system has penetrated with the greatest vigour, there the Welsh national desires seem to have lessened and the national feeling seems to have become less acute. The argument, therefore, is to further introduce the English system instead of 569 the Welsh, which the hon. Gentleman wishes to champion and uphold. Although I frankly admit the right hon. Gentleman has a right to use the results of the Welsh Land Commission in his favour, I hold to my opinion that the attempt to raise what I believe to be an absolutely artificial distinction between the condition of Wales and that of England must be extremely bad in the first instance to the Welsh farmers. I cannot help feeling that as we thresh out this question we shall approach a state of things in which Wales will not be unwilling to learn what England has to teach, and England will not be unwilling to learn what Wales has to teach. I believe that there is rather a lurking desire in the background on the part of some hon. Gentlemen to create something dangerously akin to that dual ownership which has been the curse of the sister isle. I am therefore one of those who welcome this Bill, all the more because it is not what it is the fashion to call a drastic Bill. I am afraid drastic legislation is generally dangerous legislation, and introduced by the most ignorant sections of the legislature. Therefore, inasmuch as this Bill proceeds on moderate lines, it is, I believe, all the more likely to be useful. Though it does not embody all the suggestions we could have wished, it does embrace many which are extremely valuable and likely to do good. It does not go as far as many of those interested in agriculture would have liked to go; but it may be amended in that direction at a future time. It, however, meets points wanting remedy, and will place the conditions of landlord and tenant on a better footing. It may be that some future Parliament will take up all the Acts on agricultural tenancy, and codify them in a form which will be much more intelligible than now to people who are unacquainted with the law. I think the reception given to the Bill has been in fair accordance with its merits. Those who have no political end in view, but only a desire to see a moderate change in the agricultural and social conditions of the United Kingdom, welcome the Bill, and the Government may rest assured that it will be so received in all parts of the country.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
I cannot congratulate the 570 hon. and gallant Member for Newport on the very excitable performance which he has just made, which can only be explained on the suspicion that the hot weather has affected him. His attack on the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire was exceedingly uncalled for and unjustifiable. I attended some of the meetings of the Grand Committee on Trade when this Bill was under discussion, and I found my hon. friend addressing himself to the details of the Bill in a most intelligent manner, which showed that his study of the questions at issue had been very thorough. It is remarkable that, although the hon. Member for Newport made this attack in sweeping terms on the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire, he has not condescended to address himself to a single point of criticism of the Bill before the House. The hon. Gentleman has taken upon himself to speak on behalf of the tenant farmers of Wales as well as of England. He complained of my hon. friend as being a mere agricultural phonograph, but I cannot say that my hon. friend is a phonograph of Welsh opinion. The Welsh farmers have spokesmen on their own behalf, although it seems to have been reserved for the hon. Gentleman who represents the English constituency of Newport to voice the real grievances of the Welsh tenant farmers. The hon. Member said that he had a practical acquaintance with agriculture, but he will allow me to say that his views on this subject are rather vitiated, to the extent that he represents only one party and not the other. His views on this question might be as unconscionable as mine would be on a bill of costs. After all, he represents the landlord interest, and he understands it from that point of view. Undoubtedly he knows something about Welsh estates; but, unfortunately, he represents the best Welsh estates. He does not know anything of the Welsh estates of which we complain, and to which both the majority and the minority of the Welsh Commission referred. If all the estates were managed like those with which the hon. Member is identified, I venture to say that the Welsh land question would never have reached the acute phase which the House is forced to recognise as now existing, by the fact that we are taking three or four hours in discussing these points. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is not a very good witness in 571 a matter of that sort. I disagree with the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire as much as the hon. Member for Newport on certain points. Neither of the two hon. Members really understands the Welsh land question. My hon friend, it is true, sat on the Agricultural Commission, and upon the basis of certain evidence given before that Commission he comes to the conclusion that the Welsh question is practically identical with the English question. I will tell the hon. Member why he should not come to that conclusion. The Welsh tenant farmers in fact practically ignored that Commission. The only evidence given was by Welsh landowners and agents, and only one or two tenants. But before the Welsh Land Commission evidence was given by Welsh tenant farmers from all over Wales, and they did not think it worth their while to come up to London to give evidence before the English Commission, especially when, with one or two exceptions, they had no confidence in its members. The real difficulty in the case of Wales is not altogether economic. It is to a large extent a question of sentiment. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that when he comes to Shropshire he finds no difficulty. But it is very curious that wherever you get a Celtic peasantry, whether it be in the Highlands of Scotland, or in Ireland, or in Wales, there is the same difficulty—namely, the sentimental clinging to the soil, which renders it hard for them to judge the question of rent from a purely commercial point of view, impartially and calmly; it seems to hamper their judgment altogether. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that when you get hold of one of these peasants on a small farm in the hills, he will pay any rent up to the last penny in his possession before he will quit his farm. It is not the owners of estates represented by the hon. Member for Newport that will take advantage of that sentiment. They know that these men are very good tenants. But the difficulty comes in when you come to the small landowners, especially when you come to the men who invest in land and want it to pay 4 and 5 per cent. These take advantage of the sentimental weakness of the peasant, and utilise that in order to raise the rent and extort from him the uttermost farthing; and when that fails they let the holding to another man who would be also ready to pay his last 572 penny. The English tenant farmer, on the other hand, is much cooler, and takes a more or less commercial view of the transaction. He says, "This land does not pay me," and he gives it up. Unfortunately that is not the case with the small farmers in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, who go on borrowing from each other to keep on their holdings until the whole community is more or less bankrupt. I wish to call attention to the way in which the Government has been dealing with these Commissions on Agriculture and the Land question. We have had an Agricultural Commission for England and Wales, which made two or three recommendations. They brought in an interim Report in 1896, and the moment it was presented there was legislation upon it—so far as it was favourable to the landlords—almost before the ink with which it was written was dry. Then we waited for two or three years, until we got the final Report of the Commission, with recommendations in favour of the tenant farmer; but session after session passed before we got this Bill. And what do we find? That the Bill does not carry out the moderate recommendations of that Commission, and falls short even of the recommendations most favourable to the landlords ever presented to Parliament. That is the way in which the landlords and tenant farmers of England have been treated by the Government. Well, there is the Welsh Land Commission, which presented a Report at the end of 1895. There were a few recommendations made unanimously by that Commission, which included the hon. Baronet the Member for Swansea, Lord Kenyon, and Professor Seebohm —all Liberal Unionists, but gentle-men who understood Welsh agricultural questions, and who were large Welsh landlords. Surely the Government might have taken their recommendations, because they represented the mini-mum of the Welsh tenant farmers' claims; but they absolutely ignored those recommendations. Then there was the Commission on Local Taxation, which made an interim Report in favour of a dole to another section of the supporters of Her Majesty's Government, and that was embodied in legislation in the same session. That is the way in which those Commissions and their Reports have been dealt with. Whenever there is a recommendation 573 which is favourable to the landlords and the Government supporters, we got legislation; but when it is for the benefit of the tenant farmer we get a niggardly Bill like this before the House.
§ MR. HUMPHREYS-OWEN (Montgomeryshire)
I have only a few words to add in support of the strong case which has been made out by my hon. friend, but I am unwilling to give a silent vote upon this matter, because this is the only opportunity I shall have of giving voice to the opinion of the great majority of my constituents. We have heard that there is very little difference between the Welsh and English cases, but that is disproved by the fact that while the English Members have dealt freely with the Bill itself, the Welsh Members have not thought it worth while to criticise the Bill itself, but have spoken on the Amendment of my hon. friend the Member for East Glamorganshire. It appears to me that the provision for compensation is good so far as it goes, but it does not meet the demands of the Welsh people. It has been said that the ordinary relation of landlord and tenant as created by English law is a relation such as no Christian man would offer and no sane man would accept, and there is a great deal of truth in that remark. Something has been done to mitigate the inequity of the law by previous Agricultural Acts, but there are two hardships which are involved in the relationship of landlord and tenant. The first is due to the doctrine that whatever is placed in the soil adheres to the soil and is the property of the landlord—that enables the landlord to confiscate the improvements of the tenant; and the second is insecurity of tenure, which by law is only from year to year. I am quite aware that the English tenant regards his position as tenant far more from a commercial point of view than the Welshman. A short time ago a friend told me that in his part of the country it was a regular thing for tenants, if they felt the least disinclination to continue on their farms, to give notice at once and remove elsewhere, without the least consideration as to whether it was their ancestral home or not. Now I can speak with considerable confidence of the Welsh temperament, and I can say that the Welsh tenant does not move from a 574 farm upon which his ancestors have lived without great difficulty or great disagreement with his landlord, and when he does move he does not move far. He desires to live in the same parish, great any rate the same county. He does not so much want to be compensated for improvements which he has made as to be secure in his holding. My hon. and gallant friend the Member for Newport spoke of Shropshire, and I do not deny that he is perfectly acquainted with that county and the parts of Wales bordering on that county, but it is a matter of common knowledge that there is debateable land on the frontier between two different races where the one blends into the other, and that is the case with Wales and Shropshire. English influence has spread along the valley of the Severn, and the farmers on the cast side are a very different class to the farmers on the hills on the west side, and what my hon. and gallant friend said of his Flint and Denbigh neighbours may be perfectly true, but when you come to the men who live upon the hills, who speak Welsh as their native language, and only speak English for its commercial convenience, you come to a totally different economic condition of things. Those are the men who, above all, are pressing for security of tenure in their holdings. My hon. and gallant friend made the claim on behalf of Welsh landlords that they had spent a great deal of money upon building, but, if he is cognisant of the management of a large estate, he may have had to deal with borrowing from land improvement companies for improving estates held by tenants for life, and if he has he will know that as a rule the justification given to the Board of Agriculture for imposing these burdens on the fee simple is that they are needed to maintain the existing rents. My strong inclination is to believe that the expenditure which has been made upon different estates, though excellent in itself, is an expenditure which does not justify the raising of rents, but one which simply puts the house in a condition in accordance with modern civilisation, and the modern standard of comfort. With regard to dual ownership, I do not advocate it, and I have heard it disclaimed by the Welsh farmers, who do not want it. They want security of tenure against capricious eviction. The days of capricious eviction are over, but apprehensions of it still pre- 575 vail, and it is a great social evil that the Welsh farmers think themselves unable to speak out their minds in matters of polities or religious conviction lest it should lead to such capricious eviction. I regret that the Government, from their fanatical desire for uniformity, have refused to give consideration to the special case of the Welsh tenant farmer, and hope that if they have another lease of power they will take care to do so in a future session.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir ROBERT FINLAY,) Inverness Burghs
I very much regret the absence of my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Agriculture, but I think that, had he been here, he would have had every reason to be satisfied with the debate that has taken place. There has been in all parts of the House a recognition of the fact that the Bill marks a substantial step in advance. All are agreed that the Bill is not quite satisfactory, but in all quarters it has been recognised that it has done a great deal in simplifying the procedure, and that it has done away with one grievance—that it has enlarged the scope in which compensation can be claimed in urban districts. It is true that we have had expressions of satisfaction from all quarters, and the only exception from the general unanimity has been in the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen shire, who denounced the Bill root and branch; but I appeal from the hon. Member to the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, a highly representative body, and one thoroughly conversant with the subject both in practice and theory. That Chamber formally declared that the Bill would be of substantial benefit to landed proprietors as well as to tenants, and would contribute to a considerable extent to promote the interests of agriculture in the country. The criticisms of English Members have been devoted entirely to details, and in some of these criticisms they are wrong. The hon. Member for East Northampton shire appears to think the Bill confers on the landlords, with regard to claims, privileges which they did not previously enjoy. The hon. Member is absolutely mistaken. The main effect of the Bill is to do what is in the interests of landlord and tenant alike. The hon. Member has lost himself in details and has failed to 576 appreciate what the scope and effect of the Bill are. Passing to the friendly criticisms of the Welsh Members, they have recognised that, while the Bill does not do all they could wish, it makes a substantial step in advance. This will be a great satisfaction to the President of the Board of Agriculture. It was suggested that Wales should be accorded separate treatment in respect of agricultural land. Wales would lose more than she would gain if separate treatment were established. The hon. Member for Carnarvon said the population of Wales was Celtic, and there was such "earth-hunger" that the tenants would pay any rents rather than quit their homes. I do not believe this is a matter of race; it is much more a matter of economic condition. In many parts of the country owing to accidental circumstances there are no facilities for enterprise of any other kind. There are no industrial openings, and the only career a man feels he has open to him is to farm his land as his fathers did before him. As other industries are opened up the most malignant symptoms of this "earth-hunger" will disappear in Wales as elsewhere. Complaint has been made that the Report of the Welsh Land Commission with regard to the circumstances of Welsh agriculture has been ignored; but it is not fair to say that, because several very important recommendations of the Commission have been given effect to in the Bill. Then, three suggestions have been made. The first was that there ought to be compensation for disturbance, and, in fact, fixity of tenure. I ask hon. Members who make that suggestion to bear in mind that there is an increasing disinclination on the part of farmers to bind themselves down on the land for any long period. Is a tenant farmer to have the right to stop as long as he likes on the land, while he is not to be bound to stop as long as the landlord may desire to have him as a tenant? You cannot have one-sided legislation of that sort. Another proposition made was that some provision ought to have been made for securing compensation for improvements to the sitting-tenant as distinguished from the quitting tenant. Is a tenant to be able to require the landlord to buy his improvements, and then to have the benefit of them without paying any rent in respect of them? If we give compensation, the inevitable result must be that what we 577 put into one pocket we must take out of the other. A third suggestion was that in the case of estates in Wales which got into Chancery the Board of Agriculture should be appointed a sort of assessor to the Court of Chancery and advise the judge as to the management of the estates. There are grave objections to such a system of dual management. The hon. Member for South-east Essex suggested that the law affecting agriculture should be codified. I should be glad to see such codification undertaken if it would be useful; but I do not believe the ordinary tenant farmer would find the benefit arising from it that hon. Members expect. Anyone who wants to know the law about agriculture will get a much better idea out of a text-book than out of an Act of Parliament. If I want to know anything with regard to a subject with which I am not conversant I would much rather take up a text-book, from which I should be sure to get a better view than by puzzling through an Act of Parliament. I say we ought not to attach too much importance to the actual wording of an Act of Parliament. There is never any want of men in the profession to which I have the honour to belong who are ready to explain the most obscure Acts of Parliament, and who are ready to bring out treatises, in which everything is made as clear as possible. On the whole, I ask the House without a dissentient voice to give a Third Reading to this Bill.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
I wish to join in the expression of regret at the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, and also in the protest against this Bill as an entirely insufficient measure to meet the needs of the Welsh tenant farmer. I am surprised that the Government continue to give so many object lessons as to the utter futility of appointing Royal Commissions. I imagine the time is not far distant when gentlemen who are well qualified to serve on Royal Commissions will absolutely decline to do so, if they retain any self-respect whatever, because recommendations in the case of Commission after Commission have been delibe- 578 rately set aside by even the Government which appointed the Commission. In the case of the particular Commission here concerned, exception has been taken to it because it was appointed by a Liberal Government. But it had upon it gentlemen who command the confidence of the vast majority of hon. Gentlemen opposite—men like the hon. Baronet the Member for Swansea Town and Lord Kenyon. I might give instances of other Royal Commissions, appointed by Conservative and Unionist Governments, which have made identically the same recommendations, and which recommendations are before the House in the form of Bills, and yet—I do not know whether it is because they relate to Wales—those recommendations have been absolutely rejected by the present Government. I venture to think that this is not a proper course of proceeding, and I trust that in future we shall have a little more attention paid to the findings of these Royal Commissions. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken has attacked the position which we, as representing Welsh constituencies, have taken up. He has practically denied that there is any difference whatever between Wales and England in regard to the conditions under which land is held. One of the reasons he gave for the land hunger that exists in Wales is that the industrial openings in Wales are few as compared with those in other parts of the kingdom. That, however, is not the case. There are plenty of industrial openings both in North and in South Wales. The families of tenant farmers and labourers who have hitherto been in the employ of tenant farmers have at the present time the most abundant opportunities possible of leaving the country, of serving on railways, of going to factories, mines, or quarries. So far as industrial openings are concerned, they exist in North and South Wales to as great an extent as in most other parts of the Kingdom. The hon. and learned Gentleman controverted the argument that that land hunger arises very largely from the fact that Wales has been peopled by a Celtic race. The hon. and learned Gentleman adduced some instances in which there has been Teutonic blood in the Celtic races, but there was one consideration he entirely forgot in regard to Wales, and that was the language. In Wales nearly a million people 579 speak the Welsh language, and a very large proportion of that million speak Welsh alone. They hear of openings in the rural districts of England, but they do not avail themselves of them. Why is that the case? It is because the Welsh language is the language of their hearts and their homes, the language they have heard all their life, the language in which they have worshipped from earliest infancy. Hon. Members have very little idea of the enormous wrench it is to a Welshman, who has been accustomed to speak and to be spoken to and to worship in the Welsh language, to leave his homo for other parts, even for a part in which he is certain to make his fortune, and to live under infinitely better economic conditions than obtain in Wales. If the hon. and learned Gentleman knew more of Wales in this respect he would understand that the sentimental tie-if so you like to call it is extremely strong, and that it binds a Welshman to his own home and to the country in which his language is spoken. There are other considerations as well. We have heard that holdings in Wales are comparatively small, but the hon. Member for Newport appeared to think the conditions were practically the same in England as in Wales in this respect. I can only take the country as a whole. The holdings from twenty to fifty acres are over 20 per cent. of the total of holdings in Wales, as compared with 14 per cent. in England; and the holdings of from sixty to a hundred acres are over 16 per cent. of the holdings in Wales and only about 10 per cent. in England. Then again with regard to labour-and I would especially call attention to this point-the average number of labourers employed varies from ten in the eastern counties of England to five in the western counties on each farm; in Wales the number of labourers is from one and a half to two on each farm. As further illustrating the economic difference between England and Wales in this respect, I may say that the Welsh farmers, their families, and the labourers boarded on the farms, do two-thirds of the work of the farm; in Eng-they do only one-third. I will give very shortly some official figures which show that the land hunger in Wales must have affected very materially indeed the rents originally charged in that country. The variations in the agricultural assessments to income tax for the twenty-nine 580 years ending April, 1894, show that rents in the seven eastern counties of Wales have fallen to the level at which they stood in 1864; in the six western counties they are now, in spite of the depreciation, 18½ per cent. higher than they were in 1864, or, taking the whole of Wales together, the net increase amounts to 7.8 per cent. In England, on the other hand, the rents have fallen 15.2 per cent. below the level of 1864. It is therefore perfectly obvious that there is a considerable difference between England and Wales in this respect. There is one thing I very deeply regret in connection with this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken of it as having been agreed by us to be a substantial step in advance. I wish it were. It is a step in advance, otherwise we should be challenging the Third Reading; but to say we agree it is a substantial step in advance is, I think, going a little further than is warranted by the circumstances of the case. I regret that the clause proposed by the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire was not included in the Bill. It was based upon the unanimous recommendation of the Welsh Land Commission. The recommendation was that wherever a tenant was capriciously evicted-that is to say, received notice to quit his holding for inadequate reasons, or for any other cause than that he had not paid his rent, or that he had persisted in permitting waste, and so forth-the tenant ought to be permitted to claim, in addition to the compensation due under the the Act of 1883, some compensation for disturbance. I regret that that has not been introduced into this Bill. If that clause had been inserted it would have been regarded by the Welsh tenant farmers as a great concession, and we should have been able to say without any reservation that this Bill was indeed a substantial step in advance. It seemed to me that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not deal adequately with the question of mortgagees in possession and of trustees. There are cases in which trustees, owing to their position as trustees, are absolutely bound to do things which, perhaps, if they had sole and unfettered discretion, as individual or private owners would have, they would never dream of doing. I have cases of that kind in my mind, and there are cases also where there are mortgagees in possession; they have none of the social restraints of resident landlords; they may be persons in 581 the City who do not care two straws about the land or the tenant or anything else other than receiving as much as they possibly can. I venture to think that in cases of that kind, in which great hardship has often been caused not merely to individual tenants, but to large bodies of tenants, some relief might have been given by the Government. It is surely not beyond the resources of statesmanship to find some means by which persons of that kind can be protected against persons who are obliged to act extortionately against their will, or against persons who are in possession as mortgagees and who sometimes act very heartlessly indeed, as we have known in the past. It appears to mo that during this Parliament Wales has had less reason to thank Her Majesty's Government than during any preceding Parliament of which I have any recollection. We have made appeal after appeal to the Government of the day for justice to Wales in regard to a large number of questions—not merely the land question alone, but in regard to other questions in which we are interested. We have laid before the Government recommendations of Royal Commissions, presented unanimously by the bodies from which they came, but every one has been rejected. We have asked very little, but we have had from this Government still less. In regard to the great questions in which Wales is interested—and she is interested I would have hon. Members know in different sets of questions from those in which English Members are interested—she has received absolutely nothing at the hands of Her Majesty's Government. We do not vote against this Bill, because we are willing to take whatever crumb may fall from that Table, but we have at all events the right to say that this measure does not meet the needs or the requirements of the Welsh tenant farmer's, and that the Welsh representatives in this House will continue to press forward the demands they have hitherto made until those demands are conceded in much larger measure than is the case at present.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.