§ Order for Second Reading read.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Colonel Sir Arthur Boscawen)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
This Bill is brought in in order that the Government may have an opportunity of redeeming a pledge given not merely by the Government, but by the country to some of our gallant soldiers, that those who have the inclination and those who have the qualifications may have a chance of settling on the land. After all, it is not altogether wonderful that men who fought for the country should desire in many cases to have an opportunity of cultivating part of the country for which they fought, and this Bill is designed to enable the Government by the quickest and most efficient process to carry out that promise. We think that this land settlement will be a good thing for many of these men, and we believe it will be a good thing for the country too. We think it will introduce new and fresh blood into agriculture and that it will also introduce a virile race of men who will contribute largely to the success of country life. We think that it may lead to a large increase in that intensive cultivation of the soil which is so desirable, and we regard this Bill not merely as a Land Settlement Bill for 2577 soldiers, but as part of that general reconstruction of rural life which we all desire, for, although the Bill gives preference to ex-soldiers and sailors and airmen, and also to women who have done whole-time service for six months on the land, and to whose services I wish to pay a tribute, it is not confined to that, but it is a general Bill of land settlement, and we hope it will lead to a large rural reconstruction. The Bill does not stand alone; it has to be read in connection with other parts of the Government programme. It has to be read in connection with the Housing Bill, and especially with the rural aspect of that measure which was discussed here last week. It has also to be read in connection with the Transport Bill, because the introduction of cheap and easy transport facilities for agricultural produce is an essential part of any rural reconstruction scheme, and land settlement would not succeed if we did not also have cheap and easy transport facilities. It has likewise to be read in connection with the Acquisition of Land Bill, to which a Second Beading was given a few nights ago.
The Bill seeks to increase the number of small holdings in the country generally, especially among ex-Service men. There are some people who say that small holdings are a failure, and that soldiers in particular would be a failure. Some people are very sceptical about the whole scheme. I do not share in that scepticism myself, because I believe that the small-holdings movement is a good movement and that people who say that small holdings are a failure do not realise the extent in the country districts of the small-holding movement to-day. Altogether there are 275,000 cultivators of the soil with holdings of under 50 acres, which is 65 per cent, of the total number of agricultural occupiers in the country. Of course, if you take it on the acreage, it is not so large; it is a percentage of 15. Of these 275,000 smallholders, 18,000 were created, under the Act of 1908, through the county councils. I would like to say, with reference to these 18,000, that the movement has not failed. First of all, the Act has been in operation only a very short time, because all operations were closed down when the War began. Secondly, of the smallholders created by the Act the failures represent only just 2 per cent., and the financial loss has been infinitesimal. That shows that small holdings can be successfully carried out in this country. 2578 Then, as to the soldier. I quite agree that if people think that any soldier can be put on any land and make it a success their expectations will surely be falsified. If you have soldiers, suitably selected, placed upon land which has also been selected and is suitable, then there is every reason to expect success.
What are the conditions that are absolutely necessary in the case of a soldier settling on the land? In the first place, he must possess industry. If anybody thinks he is going to have a soft time by becoming a smallholder he will be grievously mistaken. If any soldier thinks he is going to have a "cushy" job he will make a very great mistake. The work of the smallholder will be hard work, long work, long hours for himself and his wife. There will be no forty-eight hours a week for the smallholder, much less forty hours a week. I am not saying that in any disparagement of the industrial population, who work under different conditions— underground, in the pit, or in ill-ventilated factories—whereas the smallholder is working under the canopy of heaven, in the open air. What I do lay down most emphatically is that industry is one of the essential conditions of the smallholder. Next, he must have knowledge. It is of no earthly good to put a man who does not understand the land and expect he is going to make a success of it. He is bound to make a failure. Of course, there are a good many of these ex-soldiers who are farmers' sons, men who are skilled in agriculture, and others who, in some way or other, have acquired the knowledge, but for a great many others we are providing training facilities, and if there is delay in proceeding with the small holdings that are required the time will be very well occupied in training the men for the work.
The third condition is capital. You must have capital to stock a small holding. I am told that at present prices you cannot stock a small mixed farm under something between £12 and £17 an acre. If it is a dairy farm it will be something between £20 to £27; if it is a small fruit farm, with excellent intensive cultivation, it will be even more—something like £80. We realise that many of these men will not have the capital necessary, and one of the main provisions of the Bill, to which we attach great importance, is this: that by credit facilities we can advance money to the small settlers for the purpose of stocking their farm—for fertilisers, and so on. It will be done under rules made by 2579 agreement with the Treasury, and the suggestion is that we should give pound for pound. If a man has £50 capital, we will give him another £50 by way of advance, which can be subsequently repaid to the county councils. The fourth and most important condition is that the land must be suitable.
We have been charged with delay in starting this scheme. It is quite true that we have not bought very much land up to the present, but we have been offered a great deal of land, and the reason we had not bought more is that we have been most careful to see that the land we did buy was suitable. It is no earthly good putting the smallholder on very heavy clay or on some of the light soil which I saw the other day in Norfolk—"trek," I think they call it. If the smallholder is to have a real chance he must be put on really good soil, and the Board of Agriculture and the county councils are taking the greatest care to examine every piece of land which is offered to us, with a view to seeing that we accept nothing but which is really suitable for the purpose.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
About 20,000 acres up to date, but I would point out that until last December all sales had been stopped during the War. So far as the Board has bought we have been buying for our farm colonies scheme. There are certain great difficulties which confront us in dealing with this scheme. First of all, there is the difficulty that practically all the good land now in this country is occupied, and well occupied, and it is impossible to acquire a sufficient amount of good land without a certain amount of dispossession of existing tenants. That is a process that we do not like, and we wish to reduce it to a minimum, but it has to be to some extent. It is no good instituting comparisons with what has been done in other countries, or perhaps in our Dominions. For example, we have been told that Augustus was a most successful settler of his soldiers on the land. I believe that is true, but if I remember my history aright his procedure was very simple. He had just fought a successful civil war and he confiscated the land of his enemies. That is a delightfully easy way of doing it, but it is not a plan open to the Government at the present moment. Again, take our Colonies. I saw the other 2580 day an admirable scheme which showed that splendid work had been done in New Zealand and we have had similar reports as to what is being done in Canada. But in these new countries there are vast extents of virgin soil unoccupied, and the settlement of the soldier is only part of the general settlement in the development of the country.
Another crying difficulty is the difficulty of time. We want to get this land as quickly as possible and we want to get the men settled. But look at the processes we have to go through. We have got to enter into possession, which takes time. We have to build houses, make roads, drain in many cases, put up fences—all this takes time and makes it more difficult for us to carry out the scheme. It may be said, "Why did we not begin sooner? Why did we not have all this land ready for the soldier by the time the War was over?" I may say this, that so far as the Board of Agriculture goes we are not to blame, because we urged all that. I am not saying that out of any self-glorification, the credit rather belongs to my predecessor, but simply to show the position. The Government were bound to refuse, for one reason, which I think is all-powerful, namely, that while the War lasted, and especially during the crisis of the War, there was no money available for land settlement, no money for buying land or for building, and no labour for building. All the money, in fact, had to be obtained from the Treasury for financing the War. There is this third grave difficulty which I recognise that we have to get over—the difficulty of cost. I do not disguise the fact that you could not possibly embark on a scheme of land settlement at a more expensive and, therefore, more unfortunate moment than the present. We realise that, but what is the alternative? We have either got to do it and "lump" the cost or to put off redeeming the pledge, which I think the House and the country would not tolerate for a moment. The cost has greatly increased. Hon. Members opposite, I know, will say that it is because you are buying land too dear, and they will ask, "Why do not you buy cheaper?" I agree that land has gone up in value to some extent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because the value of the produce is more. Everything has gone up. But the value of land has not gone up nearly so much as most things. Whereas the cost of living has 2581 gone up 100 per cent., my information is that town land has scarcely gone up at all. Bad agricultural land has not gone up at all, but the good land has gone up 25 or 30 per cent. Even granted that the value has gone up and that we are buying land, good land, at 25 per cent, more than we could buy it before the War, my point is that the cost of the land is the smallest item.
What really is making this scheme so difficult is not increase in land, but two other things. First of all, the great increased cost of building, which is double or almost treble what it was, and secondly, the fact, often overlooked, but of the greatest importance, that when we borrow money to-day we have to pay 2 per cent, more than before the War, and the fact that you are paying 2 per cent, more makes an enormous difference. I find that in the case of a 40-acre small holding which, before the War, could be acquired at £40 an acre, the land cost £1,600, the building £550, a total of £2,150, and when you take the interest at 3½ per cent., and add a sinking fund, the loan charges amounted to £83 a year, or just over £2 an acre. Supposing we take the case of a small holding in the same place at the present prices, how do we stand? If the land goes up 25 per cent., if we take buildings as double in cost, which is a very favourable estimate, and if we take 5½ per cent, as the rate of interest instead of 3½—and you have to make a slight addition for sinking fund charges—the cost of these total loan charges would be £176 a year instead of £83, or £4 8s. an acre. If you work it out by acreage it comes to an extra annual cost per acre of 7s. 6d. which is due to land, 12s. to the buildings, and £1 7s. 6d. to the additional loan charges. Therefore, although I want to see land bought at the cheapest possible rate, and I can tell the House that the Board will not sanction the purchase of any sort of lands, the cost of the small holding would still be infinitely greater than it would have been before the War, and the great expense is not the land. I have taken the case of a 40-acre holding, where the land bears a high proportion to the total cost. If you take a smaller holding with two or three acres the cost of the land would not be so high.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
It would be smaller proportionately to the total amount. If the holding was only one of two acres the cost of the land compared with the cost of the buildings and the loan charges would be a very much smaller item. Although I do not disguise the fact that land has gone up to some extent, the greater extra charge is due to the extra cost of buildings, loan charges and rate of interest. Those are the difficulties we have to face. How do we propose to get over those difficulties. First of all, there is the difficulty that most of the land is occupied and well occupied. We try to get over that difficulty in this way, by as far as possible buying land which is in hand, where owners are farming their Own land; secondly, by buying where there are large farms or multiple farms; thirdly, by buying land which is in the possession of the War Office, or the Air Force, or some other body which has acquired land during the War; and, fourthly, by using some of those badly cultivated farms of which possession has been taken by the agricultural executive committees. In all these ways we hope to reduce the dispossession of existing tenants to a minimum. That will be our policy. But one cannot disguise the fact that there must be a certain amount of dispossession if this work is to be carried out. All we say is that we shall do it in such a way as to render the least possible inconvenience and hardship to those who are turned out.
I come now to the difficulty of time. How do we propose to deal with that? By the first two Clauses of the Bill, which give us very drastic powers. When you acquire land compulsorily now, you have to get your Order confirmed after public, local inquiries. For two years, during the emergency period, we sweep that away altogether. If a council, having obtained the consent of the Board in advance under Clause 9, makes an Order for acquiring, the land, then, without any further public inquiry or confirmation, the Order becomes valid and the land will belong to the council, and the compensation will be settled afterwards. Next, by Clause 2, we get early possession. Early possession is of the utmost importance. If you take the ordinary case, land is let on a yearly tenancy from Michaelmas to Michaelmas. If we acquire land, say, in June, and if under Clause 1 we get immediate possession, we could not enter upon that land until Michaelmas in the following year. Inasmuch as we have got to build, drain, 2583 fence, and all the rest of it, we could not begin equipping the small holding until Michaelmas in the following year. Therefore, we enact in Clause 2 that during the emergency period we may enter into possion by merely giving fourteen days' notice. There and then a council may enter into possession and begin equipping the small holding at once. I am quite aware that this provision for entering after only fourteen days' notice has caused a certain amount of alarm among existing tenants. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am quite aware of that, and I am quite prepared to meet that as far as I can. In the first place, legally the Clause makes very little difference. At the present time a council may enter at once if they acquire land compulsorily under the Land Clauses Act, if they have made a deposit of the estimated compensation. In practice that is never done. All the Clause does is to take away the necessity for making a deposit of the compensation, and it substitutes fourteen days' notice. I agree that the legal explanation does not take us very far, because the sitting tenant may say, "You have the power now, but you never exercise it, but the new powers you will exercise." Therefore I must explain what we really have in mind. I have said that what we want to do is to get on at once with the equipment, instead of waiting for a year, if not longer. We do not want to dispossess the man altogether; that is the last thing we wish to do. Not only would it be a great inconvenience and hardship to him, but it would be most expensive, because we should have to pay very heavy compensation, and all that expense would be added to the cost of founding a small holding, and we should have nothing to show for it. What we want to do is this: Say we have bought a farm or estate. We want to begin equipping it at once, and we want to begin to build. We say that here we want the right to enter at once and build a pair of cottages in that field, and we want the right to enter there and build another pair. We shall pay compensation for any damage we do in that process, but for the rest, of course, the farmer may stay on, provided only that we may make a beginning with these small holdings. That is not all. In the event of our really ejecting a tenant there is ample compensation. We have to pay the tenant who is turned out, not only for the value of everything in or on the farm, we have to pay the cost of his removal, 2584 and we have to pay his estimated profits as from the day when he was turned out to the first day on which under his agreement he could have been turned out.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Who will bear the cost of that compensation? Will it be the prospective tenant or the State?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I will come to that point in a moment. For the present it will be part of the cost of equipping and establishing the small holdings. My right hon. Friend will see that it will not fall on the tenant; it will be a part of the burden the State will have to shoulder. Naturally we wish to keep it down to the narrowest possible limits. The compensation we shall have to pay is very heavy. It will be for everything in or about the farm, for the cost of removing the farmers' implements and everything else, in addition to which there will be his profits as from the day he is turned out to the first day on which under his agreement he could have been turned out. The money will be paid with 5 per cent. interest as from the time when the ejectment took place.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel WEIGALL
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he say what will happen to a tenant if the eyes of the holding are taken out under this scheme? Can he say to the Government, "You can have the whole of the holding," or, in addition to his claim for unreasonable disturbances, will he have a claim to compensation for severance?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
There is no provision whereby we can be made to take the whole holding, but there would be a claim for severance. In that way in Clause 2, during the emergency period of two years, we try to meet the difficulty of time, which is all-important at the present moment. I come now to the question of cost. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Lambert) asked me whether the extra cost due to this compensation will fall on the prospective tenant. My answer is, no. The prospective tenant is not to pay a rent based on the cost of establishing the small holding. He is to pay such a rent as the might reasonably be expected to pay having regard to the real value of the soil. In other words, the provision which is in the present Act, whereby a holding may only be let at such a rent as will recoup the council, is swept away for a period of seven years. This is how 2585 it is done: At the end of each financial year the councils will let the Board know the deficit, whatever it may be, between the loan charges they have incurred in setting up the holdings, and the rents they receive. That deficit will be paid by the Treasury out of the Small Holdings Account each year. That will last for seven years. At the end of the seven years two valuations will be made, or rather one estimate of cost and one valuation. We shall ascertain what the holdings cost to set up, and we shall ascertain what their then value is at a proper rental value, and the difference will be wiped out, that is to say, the Board will assume payment of that part of the loan charges representing the difference or deficit and we shall then hand over to the county councils the whole of the holdings on a self-supporting basis.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Yes, we bring it all in. We say that from 1908 down to 1926 the councils will be acting as agents of the Board of Agriculture. We shall take all the land into the common pool, and write off, so far as the councils are concerned, the deficit and hand the holdings over to them as going concerns for the future. The object of these provisions is that we should not saddle upon the smallholders rents which they cannot pay and which are due to the fact that we are setting up the holdings at such an expensive time. The State must give a fair chance to the smallholder and he must pay such a rent as he might be reasonably expected to pay for the holding as a commercial success. That is how we meet the three difficulties of occupation of land, of time, and of cost. There are several other points I want to mention. The House may ask, Who is going to be the authority to set up the holdings? The House will have gathered that, in the first instance, it is the county council, and we think quite rightly. They are the old smallholdings authorities. Although they have had but a short time in which to act, we think that, on the whole, they have acted well, and that we should be unwise to take away from the county councils the power which they now possess with the experience they have gained. There is, however, another Clause, Clause 3, which gives to the Board of Agriculture concurrent powers with the county councils. That gives us power to act if we 2586 think the councils are not carrying out their work sufficiently, if they are slack, or if they are not getting on with the work of acquiring land in such quantities as we think they ought to acquire it. In that, case the Board can step in and do the work themselves. I do not think we shall often have to do that, because I believe the public spirit of the county councils is such that it will not be necessary. There may be occasion to do it in some cases. If that is so, we shall do it, because we are determined that in any case every opportunity shall be taken to set up these smallholders where they desire to have the holdings. The next point I would mention is this: What are to be the types of the small holdings? It is very easy to talk about small holdings, but it is not very easy always to define what we mean. We recognise that there must be an infinite variety of different kinds of holdings. You cannot drill men into any one set shape. Every opportunity should be taken to find for a man a holding which is suitable to his capacity. Roughly speaking, a small holding will be anything from half an acre up to 50 acres.
At present it is from 1 acre up to 50 acres. We have gone down to half an acre with but this proviso, that in the case of holdings from ½ acre to 1 acre the financial terms of the Housing Bill shall apply, because otherwise we should upset the rural housing proposals of the President of the Local Government Board.
The holdings will fall into three main-categories. The first is what I may call whole-time small holdings—that is to say, holdings on which a man, and probably his, wife, will work. They will work at nothing else, and live on the small holding. They may be something between 20 and 50 acres, a small mixed farm or a dairy farm, or there may be the much smaller variety, the fruit farm or market garden, where probably 5 or 10 acres will be sufficient. At all events, those are what I call whole-time small holdings. They will be for a limited but excellent class whom we wish to promote and help in every possible way. Then there will be another class, the cottage holding—a holding with a free, untied cottage—and it may be anything from ½ acre up to 3 acres. These will be for men who are working somewhere else. They may be working for farmers, or they may be working in town, or they may be railway men who have a certain amount of spare time. We think these-cottage holdings will be very popular 2587 and we wish to help them in every possible way. In some cases they will be set up in groups. Each man will have his own little patch of land, from half an acre upwards, and there will be a common pasturage for keeping cows, I suppose based upon the old principle of three acres and a cow. The third category in which I put these small holdings is the farm colonies which are being set up by the Board. These, again, are of two different varieties. There is, first, the co-operative farm. Our establishment at Patrington is an example of that. The whole thing is worked as a co-operative farm. Interest is paid on the capital, so much is paid for management, wages are paid to the men, and any profits over are divided equally between these three classes. There is another type. Our Holbeach Colony, for example, consists of a central farm, which will supply horses and machinery and buy fertilisers, and all the rest of it, and market the goods of the holdings, with portions of the outside fringe cut off for small holdings. Those are the three main types of holdings, and the advantage of the farm colonies or farm settlements (I notice many people do not like the word colony; it suggests a penal colony or an epileptic colony, and we rather think of altering the name from colony to settlement) is that a man may begin with a very small piece of land and gradually increase his holding and obtain a self-supporting small holding on his own. I have so far spoken almost entirely of men as tenants, but there are a certain number of men who wish to become owners, and the sense of ownership is a very natural and a very good sense. It is quite natural that many men should look not merely to getting a bit of land as tenants, but to own a bit of land, and we give them opportunity under Clause 15 with certain limitations. We do not propose that when we have supplied a holding at the present high cost we should sell it at once at a cost based upon its actual agricultural value to the prospective owner, because if we did that might create a class of speculators which we want to avoid; but we say if a man comes as a tenant at the reasonable rent I have suggested, he may have the option to buy after the seven years' period at the then value and not at the value which it cost the State to create the small holding in the first instance.
2588 The Bill also deals with allotments Allotments are a most excellent thing which we want to encourage in every possible way, and it has been most interesting and gratifying to see the extraordinary spread of the allotment system which has taken place during the War. I believe before the War there were about a million allotments in England and Wales. There are now about 1,800,000, of which about 400,000 have been provided by the Board of Agriculture under the Defence of the Realm Act. This new taste for allotments, whereby men engaged in industrial pursuits, in the towns especially, devote part of their spare time in the evenings to food production, we want to extend in every way, but of course there have been certain great difficulties connected with it. During the War building had to stop, and land which was not wanted for other purposes was made available for allotments. Much building land in the neighbourhood of many towns were put aside temporarily for allotments. We cannot retain the allotments in all cases on the sites where they were placed during the War for obvious reasons. What right have we in the case of the London parks to say that a portion of the parks, which were given and held for the whole public, shall be devoted to a few allotment-holders by cramping the space for recreation, games, and all the rest of it? Or take, again, building land in the neighbourhood of towns. Every town we hope is going to engage in a big housing programme. We cannot have the natural development of towns impeded because there happen to be allotments on particular sites which are necessary for building. Therefore, it will be necessary by degrees to get rid of many allotments which were placed temporarily on sites not otherwise wanted during the War, and, in order to meet the difficulty, we are giving under this Bill the same drastic powers to allotment authorities—that is to say, to town councils and urban district councils—to acquire land for allotments under Clauses 1 and 2 that we give to county councils for the purpose of acquiring land for small holdings, and we hope, where it is necessary for allotment-holders to be disturbed in the next few years, by the exercise of these drastic powers, town councils, urban district councils, and county councils acting for parish councils, will be able to get other land on the most favourable terms for allotments. In other 2589 ways we encourage and help allotments because we regard the allotment movement as one to be supported in every possible way, and it is an essential part of this Bill.
Part IV. sets up a new agricultural authority in every county, a statutory agricultural committee, a committee of the county council, partly chosen by the county council, and partly nominated by the Board. It is based almost entirely on the plan of the local education authorities which have been so successful under the Education Acts. One of the sub-committees of the county agriculture committee will be the small holdings and allotments committee. There is now such a body under the Act of 1908, which is a committee of the county council, and we think it important that we should have in every county a sub-committee specially charged with these duties which will be in direct relation with our new county agricultural committee and will be partly nominated by the Board of Agriculture. Inasmuch as the Board of Agriculture is going to find all the cost over and above the receipts from the small holdings, it is only right and proper that we should have our nominees on the small holdings sub-committee which is going to carry the work out. These Clauses have been criticised by some hon. Members, who say they are not really germane to this Bill and should rather come in the other Bill which I foreshadowed two weeks ago, whereby there will be a general reconstruction of the Board of Agriculture on a decentralised basis. I quite agree that when that other Bill is brought in it might be more convenient if these Clauses were put into it, but we hope to get this Bill through quickly. The other Bill has not yet been introduced, though I hope to bring it in shortly. If it is quite clear that the other Bill will make satisfactory progress and will not lag very far behind this Bill, I 'have no objection to lifting this part of the Bill bodily out; but if there is any doubt about its fate, we want to have these Clauses here, because they really are the central part of the machinery of our scheme. I hope the House will give us the Second Reading to-day, and that the Bill will pass rapidly through all its stages, so that we may get to work at once with the drastic powers we require and find small holdings for these gallant men. We hope these men, in beating their swords into ploughshares, occupying or in 2590 possession of small holdings of these different types, may show in the peaceful arts of husbandry the same energy, determination and grit that they showed on the field of battle and that they may become a valuable, contented, and stable element in our national life.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
The House will welcome this further instalment of the Government's policy for dealing with the land question. I specially welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has chosen as the particular instrument of the new development those bodies which have already done well. There can be no doubt that the county councils of the country as a whole—of course there are some not as good as others—have done their very best to work an Act which in comparison with present needs has become very much out of date. I am quite certain that tens of thousands of allotment-holders throughout the country will welcome what has been said, that this Bill in an especial measure intends to protect their interests and to give every possible facility for the further development of their work. There has been a very great work accomplished by the allotment-holders during a great time of stress and war, and, as has already been pointed out, we ought to recognise that there has been brought into existence a new body of urban agriculturists, if I may so term them, who have through a sense of public duty at a time of necessity undertaken this work and have acquired, let us hope, a permanent taste for cultivation of the land and an intention to continue the excellent work which they have undertaken. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that combining the work of the allotments with the small holdings formed a ring round many of our large urban centres, a kind of lifebelt, during some of the most strenuous and difficult times in regard to food through which this country passed and is now happily through.
What I suggest as lacking in the scheme foreshadowed is a statement of definite policy. While the War was on, the appropriate Department said, "We are going to have so many hundreds of thousands, or millions of acres ploughed up," and the result of that clean-cut plan and of this fervent determination was that things were done. What I suggest for the automatic working under this Bill, which we hope speedily will become an Act, subject to Amendments which will no doubt 2591 be made in Committee, is that it might be said that within eighteen months or two years, 500,000 acres will be taken, and we propose to settle at least 20,000 or 30,000 men on the land. That is the way to get the thing going. In these matters, as I am sure the experience of the county councils proves, the supply creates the demand. You will not get the men to come along and to ask for the benefit of this Bill unless they realise that it is a going concern. In our talk about the men coming back from the front and going on the land, let us realise this fact that they are nearly all very tired men, and the inevitable tendency amongst them will be to slip back to some easy old-fashioned way and just to rub along for a time. Unless we get them and give them the necessary inducements and some definite work we shall not have, as my hon. Friend so sympathetically and eloquently put it, these men beating their war weapons into ploughshares and forming a new splendid class in our midst. We must do something in the way of a clean-cut scheme. It must be definite, and if we do that on practical lines I believe we shall get the men in a very short time, and far better than if the schemes were brought before their notice by pamphlets issued by the Reconstruction Department. You will get the men by a clean-cut practical scheme which is in working order, but you will not get them by any other means.
The Bill is very complicated. It touches so many interests, and affects so many Acts of Parliament, and undue compression may lead to a vast amount of unnecessary litigation. It provides another example of the need for codification. As soon as the Bill gets on the Statute Book I think the work of codification should begin. As the Solicitor-General knows, there is a very expert body who have a large amount of experience, and I suggest that we should look to men of experience to codify some of our most complex legal Statutes. They could get to work almost immediately. These Acts get into the hands of men who are not practised lawyers, and I believe there will not be enough lawyers to go round with all this legislation that is being poured out, half of which is by reference. It may be a happy thing for the legal profession, but I think something should be done to simplify matters. I am quite in earnest about it. We should make our Statutes in such a way that the ordinary intelligent 2592 man can understand them. I hope that in this matter codification will be the order of the day. For the first time, I notice in thus Bill the term "best rent." In other Statutes we have equitable rent, a fair rent, and so on, but best rent is a new term. I hope that in Committee my right hon. Friend will be able to explain quite fully what that term really means, and what was in the mind of those who instructed the draftsmen to use it.
On the question of costs, the pivot of all the legislation is the Bill which received its Second Beading the other day, the Land Acquisition Bill. Is the country prepared to give these inflated war values to the owners of the land which we are going to take? I say it is not prepared to do that. I do not care a rap what the Government say or what the majority in this House say; the country is not prepared to do that, and you had better bear that clearly in mind or there will come a day of reckoning. It is not fair, it is unjust, that this great scheme of land reform should be based upon inflated war values. I suggest—indeed, I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) has already made the suggestion—that there is no reason why the land which is required cannot be compulsorily leased for a term of years and at the end of that term, say, five years—[An HON. MEMBER: "Seven years!"]—yes, seven years—let a definite time be fixed— arrange that the State shall take the land. I think that is a matter worthy of consideration.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
For the public need I am quite prepared to give the Government full power to deal with any land anywhere.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Meanwhile the Government will have spent money and completely altered the character of the land.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel WEIGALL
Land may be entirely altered in its character, in its income production, its rent production, etc., by the action of the Government. On what basis are you going to assess the land at the end of five or seven years?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I should take the basis then, apart from the inflated war value, allowing adequate compensation to be paid to every citizen of the State.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Apart from the question of fairness, what about practicability? You have a holding which is leased compulsorily for five years. At the end of five years you suggest that you can then fix the value on what would be a fair price for the Government to take it. My question is, How are you going to differentiate at the end of five years between value which can be properly paid to the owner on what is really the property of the Government owing to the change they have made in the holding by the expenditure of national money upon building, cultivation, changes of boundary, etc., making a complete alteration of the unit, so that at the end of the five years you have a totally different unit than you had at the beginning? On what principle, quite apart from fairness, is the Government going to assess it at the end of five years?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The right hon. Gentleman can put to me questions of that kind which I cannot answer. That sort of question I cannot answer offhand. That is a matter which must be dealt with in Committee. The principle is a fair one. It is not right or just to take this land at the inflated war value. I think it is fair to assume that at the end of five years or seven years there will be a deflation of war value, and you must take your chance then, and fix your price. As to the exact way it is going to be done I cannot say offhand, but surely it is not beyond the power of human ingenuity to frame some sort of machinery which would meet the points detailed by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Pretyman) and my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieutenant-Colonel Weigall). The principle is fair, and something of that kind will have to be done.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel WEIGALL
(indistinctly heard): I did not intend to address the House, but I desire to say a few words as the right hon. Gentleman has opened up an avenue which has endless possibilities. We have all agreed that if there is any value attached to land owing to the exigencies of War or to the action of the State, no individual ought to benefit by those exigencies or that action; but if my right hon. Friend imagines that you are able, however good the principle, to put into practice an assessment of value 2594 on one self-contained unit at one period, and five years afterwards to apply that same assessment to four or five other different units entirely different in character, he is quite mistaken. Take an ordinary 300-acre farm, one-third consisting of pasture and two-thirds arable, and of the two-thirds arable only 50 per cent, able to carry sheep in winter, which is fundamental as far as cereal production is concerned. The county council comes along and splits that up into six or seven different holdings with buildings, equipment, water-supply, and roads. Does the right hon Gentleman mean to tell me that five years afterwards you are going to be able to say, as between the whole 300 acres, what is the value due to exigencies of war and what is the fair market value apart from that?
The other suggestion, which I propose to make in Committee on the Acquisition of Land Bill, is that under the provisions of that Bill there should be adequate machinery to get the fair market value as between a willing seller and a willing buyer. As the Attorney-General indicates there will be no difficulty in adding the words "willing buyer" in order that you may get the fair market value. Under the Finance Act it did not matter what a man was willing to give, but that is all gone. That has failed absolutely, once for all, and I hope that it is going from the Statute Book. We have got away from that. We have got to real, practical market value. Having got that it seems to me that it would not be difficult for a valuer to see, in each specific case, the conditions that have prevailed in this particular locality. You might have had a national factory or other things, altering the whole character of the neighbourhood. All that can be applied to each specific case, and I do not see why, under the Acquisition of Land Bill, the value should not be obtained in that way. With a life-long experience of agriculture I say that it would be impossible to apply the method indicated by my right hon. Friend.
There is only one other point. This Bill is one to which I give my most hearty support. After all, it only carries out the pledges which all of us have given at the last election. What I want to say before the House commits itself to the Second Reading is this: for those of us who are entirely responsible to agricultural constituencies, who have lived our lives in those constituencies, it is not unreasonable to ask—are you prepared to ask this House 2595 and this country to commit the future of thousands of men to the fortunes of an industry whose whole economic future at the moment is absolutely in the balance? That does appear to me to be a matter of absolutely vital importance. I asked the Leader of the House to-day, for the second time, whether the Government were prepared to refer the whole of the economic conditions of the industry to a Royal Commission. We see in to-day's papers the alarming condition of incipient unrest among agricultural labourers. I am sure that you would rule that this is not the time to discuss the whole question of the rights and wrongs of wages and hours in the agricultural industry. Unless and until the Government have some really considered policy as to what they intend to do with this industry as a whole it appears to me to be very nearly a crime to ask men who have done what ex-soldiers and sailors have done during the last four years to commit their whole future to an industry in which there is great danger of their not only finding no livelihood, but the possibility of financal disaster. The Agricultural Committee of this House represents all parties and interests. I am happy to think that the Labour party give us as hearty support on that Committee as any other party, and the time has arrived when the whole of the economic conditions of the industry should be referred to an independent Commission for investigation.
If that is done ex-soldiers and sailors can be perfectly confident as to the future based on the findings of that Commission, but meantime we are without any indication as to what is really intended. The Government may say, "We do not know. After all things nowadays are in a state of flux. What we represent is the opinions of the country." We see indications that that may not be so, and although by-elections naturally are always taken by the Opposition as a clear indication that the weather-cock has swung round, however that may be, the time has now arrived, with all these great problems of agricultural reconstruction before us, for the country to make up its mind once for all on the question—is it or is it not going to make this industry, from the economic point of view, reasonably safe for the ex-soldiers and sailor? It is no good for labour to shout for sympathy. The farmer would be only too delighted to 2596 give him anything, even 100s. a week, so long as the industry is on an economically sound basis. To give it permanently a financial subsidy appears to be merely suicidal. On the other hand, the heavens do not open and shower prosperity on the agricultural industry. It is for the Government, before the House is asked to commit itself to a Second Reading of this Bill, to decide whether or not they are to see that the industry is on a sound footing. We should be informed on this point before we commit the House to this huge scheme.
I think that this measure is one which all parties in the House are likely to receive with sympathy. I think that the task of the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill and of all those who speak in the Debate is considerably complicated. We have to try to keep our minds on a double object in dealing with all these land measures. One is to endeavour to increase food production. The other is to increase the number of people settled on the land. I am not at all sure whether those two objects are always to be obtained by one and the same method. The hon. Gentleman who presides over the Board will be aware of the exceptional difficulty as to what is to be the economic unit. My own opinion is that it is probably the large farm. In spite of the fact that during the last twenty years the large farm has decreased, I believe that, owing to the increased costs of everything, the possibilities of machinery and various other considerations which suggest themselves, the economic unit is the large farm. If that be true it provides one further reason why we should be scrupulously careful as to what methods we adopt to increase the number of small farms, because so far we are trying to run against the economic laws of nature. I yield to no man in this House in my conviction that on almost every ground it is of the first importance to do whatever we can to increase the number of people who are directly and personally associated, either by occupation or ownership, with the land. For that reason I am, with my eyes open, prepared to sacrifice what I believe to be the economic idea of the large farm, but I am glad that my hon. Friend who introduced the Bill, and is responsible for it, showed himself thoroughly alive in his remarks to what I am sure everyone feels, namely, the desirability of doing that with the 2597 minimum of disturbance to the sitting tenants. I do not think the importance of that can easily be overstated.
The right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition said that he found the provisions of the Bill rather vague, and he was inclined to think that the demand would not be satisfactory unless there was a free supply of land. I think there is great force in that observation, and that soldiers are likely to find considerable difficulty in communicating with an impersonal county council or a still more impersonal board. I have no doubt that a great deal of the success of the Colonial land settlement is precisely due to the fact that they can offer a free supply, but I would remind my right hon. Friend that in Colonial settlements the land is free to let. I cannot imagine his suggestion would be to buy up land here, there and everywhere before you know what your matured demand is at all likely to be. May I give a case in point. I received in the East Riding of Yorkshire, a month or two ago a communication from the county council asking me what land I could place at their disposal for the provision of small holdings for soldiers, and asking me for a schedule as to where it was. I wrote back and asked, "How many soldiers do you want to settle," and they replied, "We do not know." I then said, I am prepared to give you any land you want when you tell me how much land you want, but I am not at all prepared to put all the sitting tenants in an insecure position on the chance of a demand which may never mature. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite also drew the attention of the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to the possibility of hardship arising to tenants by having the "eyes" taken out of his farm—and I am quite sure he will do his utmost to see that that hardship should be avoided as far as possible, and that he will exercise sympathetic discretion as to the possibility of taking over a whole holding, rather than leaving an unworkable holding on the tenant's hands. We all know there is a good deal of what is quite good land which is a present very badly cultivated. I would most earnestly press my hon. Friend to make it more than a pious opinion of his own, and to put an instruction into the Bill to the authorities dealing with this matter, that if the land is at all suitable that they should first of all concentrate their attention upon evicting the men who are not doing justice to the land rather than evicting men who are 2598 doing justice to it, and in that way avoid inflicting great hardship. The whole success of this attempt depends upon striking the right compound between the personal qualities of the settler and the material conditions under which he is going to be settled. The most qualified settler will not win success from conditions which are entirely adverse, any more than the most favourable material conditions can ensure the bad settler against disaster. With regard to the personal qualities, I think the Bill does take steps to see that it does not invite men who are unsuited, and that there are provisions as to training. In that connection I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether he cannot very largely develop, with the good will of farmers, the training of men who wish to be educated on the land.
I desire to say a word or two about the material conditions. The question of the price of land has been a good deal debated here. There was a suggestion as to the cost of land by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D Maclean.) I think every one of us, and certainly myself, entirely feel the force of any objection that he urges against what he calls the inflated value of land. He may rest assured there is no man on this side who would be found in opposition to him on that point. I would go further. I do not know entirely how far my friends are with me on this point, but I would say I can imagine nothing more disastrous for the country and for the landed interests, by which I include all those concerned in agriculture, and for the success of the project we have in hand, than an impression, be it true or false in the country, that the thing was handicapped and prejudiced from the start by the fact that extortionate landowners were holding out for inflated values. So far, I think, that carries general agreement. I would put this to my right hon. Friend. I think on consideration that he would be inclined to give force to what was urged by my hon. and gallant Friend below the Gangway just now. I would take a middle course, and would make this suggestion following out his own idea. I am aware that there are some objections as to the impracticability of the scheme, and that that may be even urged against my suggestion. I would suggest that we might conceivably find a solution on some such lines as these. Assume that you have a piece of land the value of which 2599 now is £4,000, of which the right hon. Gentleman opposite would say £1,000 was inflated. An hon. Gentleman disagrees with these figures, but 25 per cent, of £4,000 is £1,000. I should have been inclined to think that those interested in land would consider it a satisfactory proposal to say, "We will pay down the £3,000 which we think is pre-war value, and we will pay interest on the inflation value of a £1,000, and at the end of five or six years we will value the thing again, and if it is more we will pay, and if less we will stop that yearly payment on the inflation value." An hon. and gallant Friend says, "How are you going to value it at that time, and I agree it would be extremely difficult, though I do not think it is impossible. I often heard it said that you will get a valuer to value your immortal soul. An hon. Friend says he would not do so correctly. I would say in all seriousness that I am not satisfied that a suggestion of that sort is wholly unworkable, and I would be prepared myself to go a very long way to try to make it workable, even although I was aware that it would very likely involve some cases of individual hardship. I think the danger of people outside saying that landholders were holding out for extortionate prices is so great that I am prepared in the general interests of the well-being of the country to make considerable sacrifices, and I speak as a landowner myself and one likely to be affected.
The really important subject is that to which my hon. and gallant Friend just, now alluded, and that is the supreme importance of a general policy. My right hon. Friend who spoke earlier said that he also missed any statement of a definite policy. I found myself on that point in entire agreement with him, and we ought to have this in mind when we are considering the question of small holdings. I confess I was rather disturbed "to find the figures as to small holdings as they exist to-day. In the Land Settlement pamphlet issued by the Ministry of Reconstruction we are told that in the last ten years that the number of holdings, small holdings merged into large farms, is more than the new holdings that have been created under the Act. That, I think, is a rather serious statement, and that happened at a moment when agriculture was supposed to be looking up. If those things are done in the green tree we need to have great circumspection 2600 as to what will be done in the dry. If there is one thing more certain than another it is that depression in agriculture will hit the small man before it hits the big man, because, as hon. Gentlemen will be aware, the small man is a man who farms on the smallest capital and always farms nearest the bone, and therefore he is the first to suffer. I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend put it one whit too strongly when he said in effect that in the absence of a definite consistent policy the holding out of inducements to would-be settlers with no past experience to guide them to settle on the land would be like holding out inducements to an ignorant and credulous public to invest in bogus stock. I thought it right, in view of the expectations that are held and that have been raised on this subject and on account of the hopes entertained, to draw the attention of hon. Members to some of the difficulties. I know that there are parts of this House in which the landowner is regarded as an animal endowed with a double dose of original sin from which his critics, by Almighty Providence, have been mercifully spared. I, not unnaturally, do not take that view myself. I say this, speaking for agricultural landowners, that I do not think they have any need to come to this House and stand in a white sheet at the Bar. Again, speaking so far as I can as one of them, I can say that they will be willing to do their utmost to help the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill to further the schemes and to put them on a sound basis. So much do I think that that I would not mind having a wager with any hon. Member of this House that it is more than likely that the compulsory powers under which this Bill can be worked will in more than half England never be required for the purpose of land settlement, and, therefore, I hope my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, when I give them credit, as I do, for their willingness and anxiety to play their part in this work of remaking England, will give me the same credit when I claim it for myself. Do not let us in any quarter of the House underestimate the difficulty of the task we are going to do. Do not let us, on the other hand, forget that the nation will not easily forgive the fact, if it so turned out, that promises were made at the last election that we had not made an earnest effort to redeem. In that honest attempt, as I say, the Government can count upon the loyal co-operation of all those with whom I am associated, but it is the duty of the Government and of this House to realise, and 2601 to make other people realise, that the first beginning and the last end of success in this project is the health and prosperity of the agricultural industry as a whole.
§ Major BARNSTON
However much some lion. Members may disagree on the details of this Bill, I think, at any rate, on one point we are all agreed, and the Debate this afternoon has shown it. Practically the whole House is in favour of the principle of this Bill. I should like to say a word about the question of expense, which the Leader of the Opposition raised. I personally am a landowner, and what little I possess comes from the land, but I say at once that I have no desire to get any inflated price for land owing to the War. In this question of small holdings, I believe the price of the land will after all play but a small part. I believe the building, which is double the price it used to be, the equipping of the holdings, and the interest on loans, will be the chief causes of the expense. But after all the price of land is not concerned with this Bill, and though I do not want, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, to go into the somewhat interesting scheme of leasing which he has propounded this afternoon, I think I might suggest that it will want a good deal more consideration, that it appears to me to be nothing more or less than a gamble, and that the odds would be in favour of the landlord. To those of us who have had the management of estates, and who know the difficulties of small holdings, two propositions immediately present themselves. The first is, of course, how you can put your soldiers into small holdings with advantage to them, and also with advantage to the country, and the second is, how you can do that without doing an injustice or without, at any rate, being harsh to the present occupiers of the land which you are going to take away. If the smallholder is to be a success it is elementary that he must get a remunerative price for his produce. It is not doles or tariffs but a mere business proposition, very often entirely forgotten, that if a man is to be a success as a smallholder, he must get a remunerative price for his produce.
A few weeks ago Mr. Christopher Turner, apparently a great agricultural authority, wrote an interesting article on this subject in one of the weekly papers. He was speaking more of the big farmers, but after all it is more important to the smallholder than to the big farmer, because the 2602 big farmer of 3O0 or 400 acres or more, with labour-saving machinery and modern appliances, can probably carry on even if the margin of profits is very small, but the smallholder who has none of these advantages, immediately the margin of profits gets too low, goes to the wall, and if he goes to the wall, he does not only injure himself, but he indirectly injures the country, because no doubt he has depreciated the land. I mention this very simple proposition because I notice so often hon. Members gaily saying they are strongly in favour of small holdings and then at once shouting out if you suggest to them that the smallholder must be secure of a remunerative price for his produce. The second condition of success to a smallholder is that he must have capital. I am very glad to see that by Clause 16 the county council may advance sums for the purchase of livestock, seeds, implements, and so on. I believe this is one of the best things in the Bill. I suppose many of us, in our own private affairs, have often wished to put a man into a small holding who is straight, and suitable, and industrious, but what has often prevented us is that the man has not had sufficient capital, and I am exceedingly glad, therefore, that that Clause is put into the Bill. I think nobody would put a man on a small holding unless he had practical knowledge and experience, but there is one other condition, and that is that a smallholder and his belongings must be compelled to work exceedingly hard. It is a very good thing, in one way, that the men of our armies have been in France and that a certain portion of their time has been spent in the agricultural parts of France, where they have seen the very hard way the French smallholders work. In the little farm I lived at for many weeks one summer I was amazed at the way these people got up directly it was light and started work, all of them, and long after I had gone to bed I could hear them still knocking about and working. If the smallholder is to be a success he must work hard. It is no soft job, and he must be prepared to work hard. That was not the only thing we noticed in France. I think one thing that struck me more than another in France was the extraordinary stability of the French people and the wonderful pluck, courage, and determination of the French country population. The whole time I was there I never met any of the country population, even in the darkest days, who ever had the faintest conception 2603 that France, with her Allies, in time was not bound to win. Surely one reason for that was that they not only felt that they were fighting for their land in the sense that every patriotic man ought to fight for his land, but they felt also that they were fighting for their own bit of land which they themselves tilled and owned, which their fathers had owned before them, and which they hoped to hand on to their sons after them.
That brings me to Clause 10. I am not going into the question of occupying ownership, but I can say this—and it is known to all of us who have studied agriculture, not only in this country, but in other countries of Europe—that the highest stage of agricultural development has always been in those countries where the system has been that of occupying ownership, and the present Minister of Agriculture, Lord Ernie, writing on "English Farming, Past and Present," used these words:Peasant ownership increases the number of those who have something to lose and nothing to gain by revolution, encourages habits of thrift and industry, gives the owner of the land, however small a piece, a stake in the country and a vested interest which guarantees his discharge of the duties of citizenship.May I make one or two remarks on other points. Personally, I am glad that our county councils are going to be the authorities. I am not a county councillor myself, but they have local knowledge, local experience, and in most counties they have practical agricultural knowledge, and I have never heard anyone ever suggest that anything had ever been known, directly or indirectly, to be corrupt in connection with the county councils. Of course, their schemes will have to have the consent of the Board of Agriculture, which has concurrent powers with them, and if a county council moves slowly or neglects its duties the Board can step in, and I believe the proper phrase to use is ginger them up. But I do hope that in this matter the county councils will really have a fair chance. I do not think questions of this sort, questions of turning big farms into small holdings, can possibly be done in a hurry or all in a moment. If they are done in a hurry they will be done exceedingly badly. I am perfectly convinced on a question of this sort, that it is true to say that where there is more haste there is less speed. Reverting to Clause 10, by this Clause a soldier is to 2604 be given a preference for two years as regards small holdings, and a preference is also to be given under certain conditions to women who have worked on the land. May I say in passing how very glad I am that the women who have worked on the land are mentioned in this respect. I come from a dairy county, the county of Cheshire, which is, I suppose, the greatest dairy county in England, and probably women to us were more useful to our farms than they might have been to other farms in different parts of the country, but I know of several farms in Cheshire where it would be quite impossible to have carried on the farming operations during the War had it not been for the excellent work which these plucky women put in during the War. I must say I am sorry that the two years is put in. I know it has been put in in other connections, but I should like that preference to have gone on a great deal longer. For my part, I should like the preference arranged for people in this way. I should like, first of all, preference given to the volunteers—those who volunteered during the early stages of the War. I believe they possessed the truly patriotic spirit, and I believe, in addition, they had much the worst time of anyone. Then I should like, after that, preference given to men who were conscripted and who fought so nobly for us. I should like that preference to last for a long time. In my own little humble way, whenever I have a farm or small holding on the small estate I own, or the estates for which I am a trustee; whenever I have an appointment of any sort or kind to give away in connection with any boards or councils with which I am connected, the first question I shall ask any applicant will always be, "What did you do in the Great War?" I think that ought to prevail in all cases, so that the men who fought for us in our hour of need shall be the men we think of when any farms are to let or any posts or appointments are to be given away.
I want to make two other remarks. Most of us, I suppose, have asked ourselves what would be the best size and the most suitable small holding for the advantage of these men and, of course, of the country. I should not presume to give a general idea, because circumstances differ so in agriculture in different counties, but I think what I say would certainly apply to counties similar to mine—Cheshire. Under this Bill you can give small holdings from ½ an acre to 2605 50 acres. Personally, I think near our great towns it would be a very great advantage, and produce what I might call a great many by-advantages, to have small ½-acre allotments; but in our country districts, what, I am sure, is required is a cottage, a good garden, 3 or 4 acres of land where a man can keep a cow—of course, the man gets the bulk of his living in some other occupation—and where the cow and the garden help the family exchequer, and are of great benefit to the family, more especially where there are young children. I believe that sort of holding, certainly in the districts which I know, would be by far the greatest advantage both to the country and to the individual smallholder.
I would say, in conclusion, that whatever we do in this matter, do not let our enthusiasm for a new tenant make us do something which is unjust to the old tenant who is now occupying the land. I had a case not far from my own home in which a farmer had three sons of military age. When the War broke out, not one of those sons volunteered, which I think was a scandal in itself. When Conscription came along, one was called up, and, when the time arrived for him to go, he disappeared, and remained somewhere in hiding during the rest of the War, turning up again when the Armistice was signed. We know perfectly well that that is a very great exception, and almost on every farm what do you find? You find that one, two, or three of the farmer's sons have been fighting for us. To my mind it would be a gross injustice if the county council were to come along, buy that farm, cut it up into small holdings and simply change soldiers for other soldiers, who have not the previous experience of the soldier sons being turned out. Where there is a change of tenancy, where farms are too big—and many of us know that in certain counties farms are obviously too big, though I should deprecate very strongly the county council just taking the best bit of the farm—where men have not, as in the case I have described, fulfilled their patriotic and proper obligations, then I think every opportunity ought to be given to our soldiers to get small holdings. After all, every opportunity should be given to these men to cultivate, and, where desirable, to buy, the land, because, as we all know, it is due to their courage, their self-sacrifice, and their pluck that we have peace in our land.
§ Major PRESCOTT
After some abortive attempts to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on the Transport and Housing Bills, I now 2606 find myself addressing the House for the first time upon a measure of supreme importance, not merely for the men who saved the country, by their deeds of heroism, but, as has been pointed out by the Minister in charge of the Bill, to that large number of allotments cultivators who are engaged, and have been engaged since the outbreak of war, in the production of home-grown food. The need of reform in regard to the land problem is just as urgent and vital as any other problem confronting the Government at the present time. This Bill is in many respects a great and progressive measure. It provides enactments of a most sweeping, although praiseworthy, character for settling the ex-soldiers and ex-sailors on the land; but my one regret is that, under the provisions of this Bill, the interests of the allotment-holders, for some unaccountable reason, have been entirely overlooked. Before the outbreak of war, the grand old industry of agriculture, owing to the apathy and indifference of the Board of Agriculture, had been allowed to shrivel and decay, with the result that we found ourselves almost entirely dependent upon foreign nations for our food supplies. When war broke out, the problem of our food supplies became one of the utmost gravity, and Members of this House will no doubt be familiar with that memorable appeal issued by the President of the Board of Agriculture to all the citizens of the United Kingdom, that we should regard ourselves as one vast beleaguered city, bound to cultivate every available yard of land. What happened? Millions of men and women responded to the appeal, and in the large populous areas of our great cities and towns, hundreds of thousands of men—I think the right hon. Gentleman said something like 400,000 men under the Cultivation of Lands Order cultivated, on the average, something like 10 rods of land each—came to the assistance of the Government in the food crisis with which the country was then threatened. Local authorities were given the power, under the Cultivation of Lands Order, issued under the Defence of the Realm Act, to take possession of all vacant lands for the production of homegrown food, and derelict lands, which had been lying idle for years, to satisfy the prescience of the proprietors until it grew in value, came under the spade and produced astonishing vegetable results. The men and women who cultivated most unceasingly these derelict lands have 2607 undoubtedly earned the gratitude of the nation, and have deserved far better treatment than is provided under this ludicrously inadequate Bill.
I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill whether the town allotments are to be regarded as merely the product of the circumstances created by a state of War or as an institution founded on a permanent need, the retention of which is in the national interests? The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, under the provisions of the Cultivation of Lands Order, the whole of these war-time allotments must be surrendered at short notice, where it can be, shown, to the satisfaction of the Board of Agriculture, that the land is reasonably required for building or for industrial purposes. It is thus abundantly clear that these plot-holders have no security of tenure whatever. Under the provisions of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, cottagers have power to acquire land for allotments, and even outside their civic boundaries, but the statutory provision is imposed that the allotments must be self-supporting. The right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Second Pleading of this Bill, said that Clauses 1 and 2 gave power to local authorities to acquire land on favourable terms for allotments. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain how it is possible to provide permanent allotments where the average price of land is £1,000 an acre? I have the honour to represent a wage-earning constituency which can claim to have over 6,000 cultivators of war-time allotments—a record of which we feel justly proud—but the average price of virgin land in my constiuency is £1,000 per acre. That was the average price of land before the War. What it is now, heaven knows! If that is the average price, unless we get some financial assistance from the Government, most of these allotments under the existing land laws must inevitably disappear.
During the last two months I have repeatedly asked the right hon. Gentleman, across the floor of this House, whether the Government contemplated initiating emergency legislation to amend the provisions of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, with a view to Grants-in-Aid being made to necessitous areas such as the one I represent, thus enabling local authorities to buy vacant land, and to hire it out on reasonable terms to men who 2608 desire to have permanent security of tenure. Invariably the reply which the right hon. Gentleman has given me has been, "Will the hon. Gentleman wait until the Land Settlement Bill is introduced?" Well, the Bill is here at last, but I tell the right hon. Gentleman, without any hesitation, that, so far as the town allotment cultivator is concerned, it does nothing for him, and in that respect the measure can only be regarded as a fraud and a sham. It would be difficult to present a more barren or unproductive-measure than this so far as it limits town allotments. It is a crime against nature to see land lying idle in our great cities and towns as they were before the War broke out. We had lands doing nothing, producing nothing. In consequence the district lost in rates, the nation lost hope, and thousands of our fellow-citizens were deprived of the means of a most healthy and productive form of recreation. Where the landlord will not do his duty to his land, the local authorities should have power to step in and restore it to production. They should be invested with full and complete statutory powers to step in and carry that proceeding out. Municipalities are empowered to spend as much money as they like in the provision of parks and open spaces for the purposes of recreation. I fail to understand why this great Department of State does not bring forward some suitable legislation to give local authorities in necessitous areas, ample means to retain most of these war-time allotments in some permanent form. The right hon. Gentleman must agree that they provide a most healthy and most productive form of recreation and enjoyment.
The land problem, the housing and similar problems are at the very root of all our social troubles. We live in a progressive age. What is wanted more than anything else is the right use of land and easy access to it. In thickly populated areas, where the price of land is high, you do not want any more buildings. The constituency I have the honour to represent is a thickly populated one. We do not want another Bethnal Green. The parks and open spaces we have we are now cultivating as allotments we want to retain. I say that local authorities in areas such as those where the price of land is high are powerless to deal with the question of permanent allotments under existing legislation. They have utterly inadequate 2609 resources and utterly restrictive finance. I am, therefore, simply amazed to find that under the provisions of this Bill they get no help whatever. I desire to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the only method of ensuring security of tenure to allotment-holders is for the Government either to take full advantage of the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act, 1916, or, alternately, to introcude legislation enabling the local authorities themselves to acquire land for allotment purposes on reasonable terms and authorising the Board of Agriculture to make grants to such authorities in necessitous areas. In conclusion I want to say that the Government, with a folly which seems almost incredible, after the repeated assurances which have been given to many deputations that have attended before the Board of Agriculture on this question, have lamentably failed to seize a great opportunity and to recognise in some tangible form the great services rendered to the nation by the allotment-cultivators of the country. Unless some useful and judicious Amendments are introduced into the Bill when it comes before Grand Committee, I think the right hon. Gentleman will encounter a storm of opposition that will not be very easily appeased. I desire to thank the House for having listened to me with so much patience and attention.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I desire to add a word or two to what my hon. and gallant Friend opposite has just stated. There is undoubtedly to-day in the country a great anxiety on the part of allotment-holders as to their position. Before the War there were some half a million allotment-holders in England and Wales. To-day there are 1,500,000 who are cultivating some 200,000 acres. Out of refuse ground and dumping heaps they have raised splendid crops. In Battersea, for instance, a piece of land which was formerly a dust heap was taken over in February, 1916, and 80 tons of stones were removed. To-day splendid crops have been obtainable from that waste piece of old land. The allotment-holders of the country claim that during the past year they have supplied vegetable foodstuffs to 7,000,000 people. In Burton-on-Trent there is one allotment to every two householders. In Derby, Eastbourne, Gloucester, Leicester, Oxford and Southend-on-Sea there is one to every three householders. Leicester has over 1,500 acres under allotment; and Birmingham over 1,400. Last year there 2610 were 700,000 tons of potatoes provided by allotment-holders to England and Wales on the spots where the crop was to be consumed.
That was the position a few months ago. To-day all over the country allotment-holders are receiving notice to quit. In many cases evictions are taking place. My hon. and gallant Friend knows that a very large number of the allotment-holders of the country have acquired land under private contract. I regret to say that in far too many cases the allotment-holder is getting notice, and in many cases he is having to turn out of his allotment at very quick notice indeed. The position in London, I know, is a difficult one. But, as my hon. and gallant Friend is aware, owing to the action the London County Council has taken, allotment-holders now have to be prepared to turn out of the London parks. It is true, as my hon. and gallant Friend has stated to me again and again in this House in answer to questions, that the parks of London are primarily for the public use and benefit. But I venture to say to him that there are many parts of our London parks which to-day have been cultivated by the allotment-holders, parts which the public use little or rarely. If one walks round a good many of the London parks where the allotment-holders are to-day it will be seen that they have taken parts where formerly grass grew. To my mind it is a matter for the consideration of my hon. and gallant Friend as to whether something more could not be done to preserve the allotment-holders of London. I was glad to see that the London County Council have already agreed, through their particular Committee, again to reconsider this matter. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will use his influence to see what arrangements can be made to preserve the allotment-holders of London.
I welcome many of the provisions of this Bill from the point of view of the allotment-holder. I recognise that all the way through the administration of my hon. and gallant Friend has been sympathetic. In many cases he has intervened to save a very large number of allotment-holders from being evicted. But I do want to say this to him: that so far as I can see in this Bill there is no provision made for security of tenure for the allotment-holder. That is what to-day the allotment-holders-are anxious about. What they want to see is something plain in black and white, so that they may know, when they are 2611 cultivating their allotments, that they are not going to be turned out at a few weeks' or a few months' notice. The present condition under which allotment-holders hold their allotments is unsatisfactory. My hon. and gallant Friend knows that a good deal of their tenure depends upon the interpretation of Circulars issued by his own Department. I feel that the allotment-holders, who have done such excellent work, are entitled to have some more definite and solid tenure. Finally, I would urge upon my hon. and gallant Friend what I believe would be a great advantage to him in connection with the administration of allotments, namely, setting up a consultative committee of his Department, composed of representatives of allotment-holders throughout the country. I think he will find that by his Department getting into close touch with the allotment-holders, as other Departments have found, that great advantage accrues. I also want to suggest to him, quite contrary to what my hon. and gallant Friend has just said, that there may be an advantage, so far as allotment-holders are concerned, in eliminating the county councils and allowing the Departments to deal direct with the borough councils or the urban district authorities. Particularly in London, my hon. and gallant Friend might well amend this Bill so as to deal with the borough councils direct. He is adding cumbersome machinery to his Bill otherwise; and I think considerable advantage would be gained, at any rate in this connection, by eliminating the county councils. I do not say this in any unwelcome spirit in relation to this measure. I gladly welcome all that my hon. and gallant Friend has done in the past for the allotment-holders. But I feel sure that when this Bill comes before the allotment-holders, as it will to-morrow, they will feel disappointed that in it is made no provision for security of tenure. This is the thing disturbing them most at the present time.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I quite agree with the criticisms to which we have just listened in regard to the allotment position in London and the large counties. It is a very difficult problem, but it is one with which we shall have to deal, and I hope we shall deal with it in this Bill. If the interests of these people are not safeguarded now, I hope that in Committee we shall strengthen the provisions of the Bill in 2612 regard to this particular matter. We did really encourage hundreds and thousands of men to take up allotments during the War. They have done magnificent service. It would be a thousand pities now if they are not given security of tenure, and if they lose their allotments. We must, of course, always remember that they have possibly taken a good deal of land which at some time or other will be required for building purposes. It may be years. Still, under those circumstances we must give the local authorities some system of recognising to what extent, after due notice, land can be resumed for building purposes. If this position is safeguarded, then we shall meet the case in London and in the large towns.
In regard to the Bill, I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on being in a position to introduce it to-day. There has been, I feel, regrettable procrastination in bringing forward this Bill, which really ought to have been introduced at least two years ago. There is no reason why it should not have been. I do not really believe now that it will be possible for us to make up for loss of time. Much as I should like to do so, I cannot see how this is going to be done now that the Armistice has been signed for six months, and millions of men have been demobilised and scattered about all over the world, and I am very much afraid that the nation has lost a golden opportunity of getting back the men on the soil who would have been the backbone of our rural districts for generations to come. We shall, I am afraid, only get the residuum back, because the best men are tired of waiting and are turning their attentions in other directions. We cannot blame them. This Bill is not on the Statute Book yet, and if it is passed within two months the local authorities cannot put it into operation for some months to come.
I do not think the Government can be absolved altogether from blame in this matter. They had the Report of the Committee appointed by Lord Selborne in 1916, during the first Coalition Government, and it made a most important report. This Committee was appointed on the 15th July, 1915, and it reported on the 21st January, 1916. Now we are in 1919 and nothing of any account has been done since then. The county councils were stopped from administering the Small Holdings Act. They were not allowed to purchase land under its pro- 2613 visions, and although it is true they might have gone on leasing land they did not do so, but stopped work altogether. It is quite true that many of their land agents had to go into the Army, and the Small Holdings Commissioners went into the Food Department, and the whole machinery of the Small Holdings Act stopped during the War, and the only thing Parliament attempted to do was in 1916 when they passed the Small Holdings (Colonies) Act, which was a provisional measure giving the Board of Agriculture power to try the experiment of creating small holding colonies in three or four parts of the country, with power to obtain 6,000 acres of land in England, which was quite a negligible quantity. At the time we almost killed the Bill by ridicule upon its introduction, but it got on the Statute Book, and the Board of Agriculture made a feeble effort to put it into operation.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
Yes; I was one of those who made that feeble effort. We applied to Parliament for a further extension of powers We went to the Treasury and said, "We want more land." The Treasury said, "You cannot have money to buy land; we can only allow you to get it at a rent charge, and you must try to get it on a pre-war rental basis," which was, of course, absolutely impossible. We put that Bill on the Statute Book, but I do not believe that an acre of land has been got under it yet. I point this out because I want to make the point that now the Board of Agriculture, having gone along in a leisurely way during the War, are asking the county council to put thousands of soldiers upon the land in two years. I think it is very unreasonable to expect county councils to turn round now and do in two years ten or one hundred times as much as the Board of Agriculture has failed to do in a very long time.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
Yes; I ought to have said that the Government have failed for four years during the War to put more than 100 people on the land, and now we are asking the county councils to do it in two years. We know the county councils in the past have not been fond of compul- 2614 sion, and very few of the councils of England have made use of the compulsory powers. Most of them who have put the Small Holdings Act into operation have been those who could get the land by voluntary means, and naturally that is what the county councils will do in the future. It is true there are some county councils that have used compulsory powers, but the majority get the land by voluntary means, and if they continue to adopt that policy how long are they likely to be in getting sufficient land for the purposes of this measure? It is now six months since the Armistice, and if the county councils can get any appreciable quantity of land in sight before Michaelmas they will have to give the occupiers twelve months' notice. [An. HON. MEMBER: "No!"] You will have to do that if you do it by voluntary means, and you will find that the county council in the majority of cases will decide to do it in that way, and will very much hesitate about using the compulsory powers under this Bill. Consequently we get to Michaelmas, 1920, before the county councils can get possession of any appreciable quantity of land.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
My hon. Friend has evidently forgotten that, under Clause 3, if we are not satisfied that a county council is doing its duty, we can do this ourselves, and we intend to do it.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
Of course, that depends who is the President of the Board of Agriculture, and I hope my hon. Friend is right. The county councils themselves will require time, and I know the members of the Small Holdings Committee will do their best. I have been a member of such a Committee ever since the first Act of 1892, but we cannot move more rapidly than the law of the land will permit, and we must give the people who are holding the land at present a fair notice. I note there is a Clause speeding up the compulsory orders, and that is extremely necessary. I only had experience of one compulsory order, and it took two years, and we had to have twenty-seven meetings before we could get it into operation. With regard to Part II. that deals with the Amendments to the Act of 1908, and they are Amendments that the Board have been pledged to for some time, and no doubt would have been put on the Statute Book early but for the War. My hon. Friend, in his speech introducing this Bill, said that the town 2615 councils were to be able to get land for allotments more quickly, and that they were to have the same powers with regard to the compulsory Clauses as the county councils. I cannot find that provision in the Bill.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
May I point out that this Bill is to be read in conjunction with the principal Allotments Act, and it confers the same power with regard to small holdings and allotments?
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I am sure we shall all be glad to hear that. There is also an extended power to acquire land by annuities. If we could possibly get Parliament to agree to allow us to take land compulsory and give an annuity for it, we should then be able to go to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the colleges, and those public bodies who have such a great quantity of land under their control. I believe I am right in saying that they have something like half a million acres under their control as public bodies. They manage them and take the net rentals, and there is very great expense in the management, and if you could give them an annuity and Government security they would be quite willing to part with a good deal of their land, and instead of spending the greater part of your £20,000,000 buying land, under my suggestion you would have a good deal more money for equipment and you would spread out your expenditure, and you would get more for your money than if you had to buy the whole of the land. In Clause 16 there is a very useful provision for the lending of money to smallholders for seeds, manures, stock, and so forth. I would like to know if that is going to come out of the £20,000,000 Grant, or will some arrangement be made with banking companies?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
The credit facilities will probably be arranged through the local banks. The smallholder will open an account with the local bank, and he will be able to have an overdraft guaranteed by the county council. The council will be allowed to borrow for the overdraft, and if there is a loss it will be distributed over the whole. That has nothing to do with the £20,000,000, which is the amount for the purchase of the land.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I am glad to receive that explanation, because it was not clear in the Clause. This really means that 2616 money will be lent to the smallholder on the security of the county councils, and if there is any loss—and I do not believe there will be—that will have to come out of this account.
Clause 18 provides for holdings of less than one acre. I think that is a most admirable provision and will meet with universal acceptation. Do I understand that those who become possessed of land will not be able to make any arrangement for purchasing at once? That point ought to be made clear. I would like to know if they can make a bargain now on the understanding that there will be a revaluation in 1926?
§ Sir R. WINFREY
That is what a great many of them I know would like to do. The whole success or failure of this Bill turns upon its finance. We are to have £20,000,000 for the purposes of this Bill during the next two years. Then for the following three or four years, I suppose, Parliament may be asked to make further provision. If the £20,000,000 are expended in the first two years, then Parliament may be asked to make further provision. At any rate, in 1926 there is to be a revaluation. The Government are to stand the whole racket until 1926. They are to finance the whole business until then, and in 1926 there is to be a revaluation, and the county councils are to take them over at the then price. Whatever loss there may be, the State will bear it. I was asked to meet the Norfolk Small Holdings Committee on Saturday, but unfortunately I could not get down to Norwich. I do not know whether any other county councils have taken the same line, but the county council of Norfolk are very much up in arms, because they say, "We do not want to pool our pre-war purchases. We were an up-to-date county council, and we did all we possibly could to get land. We even put the compulsory Clauses into operation. We have made some good purchases, and if we were to realise our estate to-morrow we should perhaps have a surplus of £10,000. We do not feel inclined to throw that into the pool of 1926." I am only putting their case. "We shall sacrifice that £10,000 which now stands to our credit, whilst other county councils who have not been very zealous and have not done their work very well will benefit." We 2617 shall have to discuss that matter in Committee, and see if there is any way out of it. I have an open mind on the subject at the present time.
With regard to Part IV. I am very glad to see that the tenants are to be represented on the county agricultural committees. That is only as it should be. I am quite sure that there are some very useful men who are already tenants of the county councils, and other men who will become tenants who will make valuable members of these agricultural committees, and I am very glad that the Board are taking power to put some of them on the committees. I see that some of the new work of the agricultural committees is to formulate schemes for the development of rural industries and social life in our rural places. There is great scope for the agricultural committees in that direction, and I trust that we shall get the right men on the committees, that they will formulate schemes, and that the Board of Agriculture will finance those schemes if they prove useful. The success or failure of this Bill, as I say, depends upon the price that is given for the land. In my judgment, if we buy land either voluntarily or compulsorily under this Bill at the present war prices—which, my hon. Friend says, are 25 per cent, for good agricultural land, though I can assure him that is much below the mark, because there are large tracts of country in the Eastern counties where. 50 per cent, is a great deal nearer the mark—we shall regret it, and I do not think that there is any necessity to do it. There is another way out that I suggested last Thursday, and that is to have a compulsory rent-charge. I dare say that there are some small men who will sell land to the county councils who will want their capital, but there are a great many landowners who if you gave them a Government security in the way of a perpetual rent-charge would get all that they desire. It is a marketable commodity. If you are going to buy 1,000 acres of land from a considerable landowner at £40 an acre, that is £40,000. That land, you may presume, is worth £2 per acre to rent. Why not give that man a perpetual rent-charge of £2 per acre? If you do that you come into possession of the land for all time, you can go on with your buildings without any fear of interruption or of the lease coming to an end, and the owner who gets that rent charge gets it with complete security, and he can either keep it or turn it into money.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I do not quite see where the economy to the Treasury comes in. The Treasury would pay exactly the same sum if they paid that or paid the £40,000 and borrowed it at 5 per cent.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
If the owner of the rent-charge were allowed to turn it into money at once, of course that obviously would be so.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
No, I am not on that point at all. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the land might be taken as worth £40 per acre, and that instead of paying £40 the Treasury should pay a perpetual rent-charge of £2. It would not make any difference whether it were capitalised or not. The Government would either have to pay £2 per cent, on the capital borrowed or £2 per acre rent-charge, and the nation would be in exactly the same position.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
In the case that I have in mind the tenant would have to pay the rent. The tenant would pay the perpetual rent-charge.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I think that it avoids putting down the capital sum, but I am not a great financier.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I hope that it would. At any rate, that is my point. We should make this £20,000,000 go a good deal further, and if landowners would accept a proposal like that, we should be able to get a great deal more land. It all depends upon finance. If we can finance this scheme upon sound business lines, then I think we shall make it a great success. I have every hope and confidence, and anything that I can do to further this measure I shall do with the greatest possible pleasure.
§ Mr. ROYCE
I think the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Sir E. Winfrey) was perhaps a little unjust to the Government in criticising them for not having brought their scheme forward at an earlier date. I, and others who have had some experience of what the county councils have been able to do during the recent War period, know quite well that it would have been impossible at that 2619 time to have launched the scheme. It would have been impossible to have leased the land under any circumstances. It would have been impossible to have obtained the building material; indeed, it is almost impossible to obtain it at the present time. Therefore, so far as that criticism is concerned, I think that it was rather unjustly levelled. I need not defend the Government—I may perhaps have something to say on the opposite side myself directly—for they can quite well take care of themselves in this particular instance. I welcome this Bill, because it seems to me that it not only fulfils a promise to the men who have fought, and will not only supply a want that is very greatly felt at the present time, not merely by ex-Service men, but by many other agriculturists, but it will, as indicated by the hon. Member who has just sat down, prevent a considerable exodus from this country of the agricultural population, and that alone justifies its introduction. It will, however, do more than that; and, so far as the Bill is concerned, I can state here in general terms that we on these benches welcome the introduction of it.
I am not quite sure that the machinery of the Bill with regard to the selection of the land is the best. I am not quite sure that the "willing seller" element is a good one. My own opinion, and it is an opinion shared by some of those who have had most experience in connection with the acquisition of land, is that there ought not to be any chance selection of land; it ought to be a matter of absolute certainty. The land ought to be scheduled, and, as I indicated in connection with a former Bill that dealt with this subject, that land which is required ought to be taken for this particular purpose. It is said that the best pieces of land must not be taken. I will not say that the best pieces must be taken, but I will say that the worst pieces must not be taken. Only good land and good land which is suitable for the purpose should be taken. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture indicated that the new county agricultural committees will take over the present small holdings. I should like to know how they propose to administer those small holdings, and what portion, if any, of the capital value already paid by the occupying tenants will be returned to them? I hope that I am making myself clear in this matter. The principle of the tenant pay- 2620 ing a contribution for the redemption of the capital value of the land is absent from this Bill. I want to know what is going to happen to those who have already for ten years paid their contributions towards the redemption of the capital cost? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bear that matter in mind and let us know when he addresses the House. I hope that it is not a difficult question to answer.
There are two matters in connection with this scheme which are of the greatest possible importance. The first is the appointment of competent official valuers in connection with the Land Acquisition Bill, and the second, as I hold, is that the Commissioners will be one of the most important factors in directing the progress of the selection of the land in connection with the administration of this Bill. I am sure that you will never get a good and comprehensive scheme by accepting chance pieces of land that are offered. It will be necessary to have some machinery which will enable you to make something in the nature of a comprehensive plan. It will never do to dot down these settlers promiscuously. Very much consideration must be given to the position in which these men are to be placed. I know that at the present time land which is very remote from suitable railway stations is being offered, and in all probability will be acquired. It is excellent land—excellent for the purposes of land settlement, but before it can be utilised to advantage by the ex-Service settler it will be necessary to have something in the way of railway communication, and that will take time to provide. I hope therefore that in the selection of land due consideration will be given to the desirability of having it adjacent to a railway station. That is the defect of the Crown colony at Holbeach. The question whether it should be called a colony or a settlement seems to depend largely on the amount of rent charged to the settlers, but it will be a colony, and a penal colony, too, if the same high rent that is placed on the settlement at Holbeach is attempted to be extracted from the settlers under this scheme. There is no mention in the Bill with regard to what rents are to be charged. Ample allusion is made to disbursement items, but there is no reference to the amount to be charged as rent to the occupants of the land. It may be that that will be the subject of another Bill, but I am sure it will be some comfort to know that the rents will be reasonable.
2621 Reference has been made to security of tenure on the part of the allotment-holders. Again, I find no reference in the Bill to anything in the nature of security of tenure. Experience under the county council scheme has, however, proved that tenure is secure. Still there is no mention in the Bill of any intention to provide it in connection with this matter. The question has been debated very much in this House of the increase in the price of land. I would certainly pay no fancy prices for land. But, as I stated in connection with another Bill recently, there must be no profiteering in land in connection with this scheme. I welcome the remark which fell from the hon. Member for an agricultural division opposite, who, I am sure, was expressing the general sentiments of the landowners and of the agricultural party in this House when he said that it was their desire to help facilitate the passage of this Bill, and to prevent anything in the nature of a charge of greed on the part of landlords being levelled against them. The hon. Member made a rather pointed allusion to these benches. But there are some Members who sit on these benches who have an opportunity of meeting the agricultural Members, and I must say that so far as our association with those Members has gone up to the present we have found them in every respect willing and anxious to do all they possibly can for their country. But my reference is not to the landowners as landowners. It is the general class who are in possession of the land who are likely to cause the difficulty. Personally I think there will be very much more difficulty in dealing with some of the tenants than with the owners of the land, and especially with those old tenants on behalf of whom the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture expressed so much concern. Why rents should be increased immediately if these tenants are dispossessed passes my comprehension. Old tenants are not always remarkable for the good cultivation of their land, and a little new blood infused occasionally among the tenantry is much to be desired. Much as I like their continued association with the land, that is after all only a romantic aspect which does not always produce the very best practical results.
There is another matter I have to mention. You can give ex-Service men good land, you can give them good houses and all the amenities that the country can 2622 produce, but if you do not give them the opportunity of making a reasonably decent, living your scheme will not be successful. There are a great many ex-Service men who are thoroughly acquainted with the cultivation of the land, and will do well on it under almost any circumstances. But you have to think of the average man in these cases. It is to him your thoughts must turn. It is he who requires helping, and as far as possible, whatever happens, consideration must be shown for him, especially in the early stages of his adventure. I should like to say a few words with regard to the constitution of the county agricultural committees. This is provided for in Clause 24, which gives power to the county council to appoint at least one-half of the members of the county agricultural committee, the Board of Agriculture presumably being responsible for the appointment of the rest. I am not sure that anything like a fixed number can be observed in this connection. In some counties where the population is largely industrial you will get on your county councils a predominance of the industrial element, and their attitude with regard to agriculture is rather of the ruthless order. In these cases I think it would be well for the Board of Agriculture to have reserved to it the right to appoint a greater number of the members. And again, in connection with purely agricultural counties, consideration must be had to the fact that too many local interests may be involved, and there again there should be a rearrangement of the numbers to be appointed by the Board of Agriculture. I merely indicate that as something well worth thinking about. Do not make a fixed rule for all types of counties, some of which have an interest in agriculture, and some of which have not. In the case of purely agricultural counties, I am not suggesting there would be anything in the nature of malpractices, but it is well to prevent any possibility of them.
There is another matter to which we attach very much importance, in connection with these agricultural county committees. We here insist upon a provision being inserted that Labour shall be represented on these committees. We want a fair Labour representation. I notice in Section (3) of Clause 25, it is provided that the small holdings and allotments sub-committee shall have on it one or more members appointed by the Board, such members to receive from the Board payment for loss of time of such sums as 2623 the Treasury may allow. I can imagine that so far as this small holdings and allotments sub-committee is concerned, it is the intention of the Board of Agriculture to permit Labour representation, but I should like to see it clearly set forth in the Bill. What applies to the sub-committee should and must also apply to the county committee. I think it would be perfectly just that that power should be taken, Labour members have not sufficient means to enable them, to lose a day or more to attend to their duties on these committees, and yet they will be among the most valuable members of such committees, and it will pay the State well to see that they lose nothing by their day's absence and travelling expenses. If the hon. Gentleman will pledge himself to introduce these two provisions—that adequate Labour representation shall be placed on the county agricultural committees and on the small holdings subcommittee—and I hope he is sufficiently impressed with this point, as I am very anxious to get an answer from him—if he will pledge himself to insert these provisions, I can give him an assurance that he will have no more hearty support through the whole progress of this Bill than that he will get from the Labour party. I see there is a suggestion that in certain cases the Death Duties where the land is concerned should be paid in kind. I am not so much concerned about that matter. I am more concerned with the question of Labour representation on these committees.
I trust that the Board of Agriculture, in connection with the inauguration of these schemes, will take very strong and careful steps in fixing the rent. It is all very well to tell the tenants that their cases will be considered, and that they must do their best, but if they cannot get the consideration which they have a right to expect defined in some shape or form, they will not be encouraged. I am sure the safest way of dealing with these matters is not to demand an economic rent, as in the case of the Holbeach Crown Colony, for it has a tendency to weaken the interest of the men, and in an adverse season they feel they have very little possibility of being able to pay their way. Encouragement must, therefore, be given to them in the early stages of their work. I am more than pleased to find that the Board of Agriculture have taken this matter up so strenuously. I do not share 2624 the views of my hon. Friend below me that they have been dilatory in this respect. So far as I am concerned, and I know something of the operations of the Board of Agriculture during the War in connection with a war executive committee, I do not believe that they could advantageously have entered the field at an earlier period. But I do adjure them, now that they have entered the field, to use all the energy they can command to enable these men to enter on the land at the earliest possible moment.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Major LANE-FOX
I do not think the Government have any cause to complain of the reception which has been given to this Bill. There are only a few points on which it has been criticised. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Norfolk complained of the delay which had occurred in introducing this Bill. When it is realised that, during the period over which that delay extended, he himself was one of the principal members of the Administration and was responsible in this House for part of the administration of the Board of Agriculture, the House will realise that, instead of posing as a captious critic, he is really standing in his own white sheet. Everyone must admit that it is unfortunate that this Bill was not brought forward sooner. Obviously in that case the difficulties would have been very much less. But I think it will be also agreed that the difficulties of doing that would have been stupendous, and that it is very easy to be wise after the, event. In fact, two or three years ago the difficulties would have been practically insurmountable. The hon. Baronet also referred to the price of land. He said that in his part of the world land had increased in value to the extent of 50 per cent. I venture to suggest that—without in the least wishing to advocate that inflated prices should be given—he was possibly alluding to some of the extraordinarily rich fenlands. I venture to think that there is a special reason why the value of such land should be specially inflated now, but I think that is an exceptional case. I do not think it will be found that the increase has been anything like so large as he suggested, taking the average of the whole country. Therefore the problem is not such a serious one as the hon. Baronet's remark might lead the House to infer. I feel most strongly that 2625 it would be disastrous if inflated prices were demanded and if inflated prices were paid. It is the duty of the State to find an equitable way out of this difficulty. One or two rather impossible suggestions have been made. The first, I think, was that made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, namely, valuation at a later date, when the holding had entirely changed its character. I think that was well disposed of by another speaker, and I suggest that, even if it comes to the crucial process of cutting off from the price a certain amount, that would be a far better process than allowing it to be thought that inflated prices were being given and the whole scheme was being endangered thereby.
The position of allotments in towns undoubtedly raises a very difficult question. I think it would be disastrous for the country if the allotments which have been carried on with so much success were to any large extent to be done away with. I cannot myself see why, where land is not being immediately used, there should not be some compulsory system of leasing until the land is wanted for building, when with reasonable notice it might be taken for such purposes. Cultivation of the land will not depreciate it for building purposes. These allotments are doing a great deal of good and having a wonderful effect in bringing our town populations out into the open air, and I think it would be a public disaster to bring them to an end now if it can possibly be avoided. Of course, that would also apply very largely to the vast tracts of new allotments which have been brought into being all over the country under the Defence of the Realm Act. But it would be very much easier in the country, if the land were wanted for any other purpose, to replace it by some other land, and I welcome the assurance which has been given that in this Bill provision is made for the replacement of these allotments, so that they will not be lost. At the same time I should like to see that assurance made clearer when the Bill goes into Committee. I am certain that this realisation by a large section of our population that it was worth while to cultivate the garden or allotment, is having most valuable results. I would far rather see the garden alongside a man's house, but if we cannot have that, let us have allotments and make them as permanent and lasting as possible.
2626 Nobody can suppose that this Bill will satisfy some of the critics of the Government. But I venture to think that this hurricane campaign in favour of settlement on the land is a most risky and dangerous thing. I do not want to throw cold water on it, but I am most anxious to see that we do not do anything hurriedly in such a way that in ten or twenty years' time we shall have a large number of men, who have deserved extraordinarily well of their country, complaining that they took up this proposal and went on to the land under the guarantee of the State, with the full encouragement of statesmen, leaders and all who were supposed to be able to advise them, but that they have come to regret bitterly that they ever took it up at all. We cannot be too careful in putting men on to the land in this way. If we try for political purposes to represent life on the land as a brilliant, healthy and interesting occupation, which everybody knows is an ideal very rarely attained—if we do not represent its hardships, and see that the men are properly trained and properly equipped with capital, knowledge, and experience—we shall be doing a most grievous wrong to men who deserve better things of their country. Reference has been made to the Crown Colony—now a co-operative farm—at Patrington, and some of the East Riding farmers described to me the eloquence of the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Norfolk, when he visited that farm at Patrington and waved his umbrella over the scene and seemed to be enormously satisfied with what appeared to them to be a very doubtful experiment. I do not think that anybody who knows the Grown Colony of Patrington, which was originally intended for a small-holding colony, but, having failed in that direction, is now being developed into a co-operative farm, will disagree with those farmers.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I think the hon. and gallant Member is confusing me with Lord Bledisloe. He was responsible for that.
§ Major LANE-FOX
I cannot understand the hon. Baronet's wishing to shirk responsibility. He may not have been responsible for the scheme, but he was certainly responsible for the umbrella. With regard to what has been said on the subject of inflated values, I want again to emphasise what I think has been universally recognised, and I welcomed the 2627 generous appreciation of it voiced by the hon. Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce), namely, that owners of land are most anxious to help this scheme. I am perfectly certain that there will be no opposition from them except such as may be dictated by genuine apprehension as to the final results and the final prospects of success. Unless we are successful, and unless we can give the men whom we are putting on to the land in this way a fair chance, it would be far better not to embark on it at all. To speak as though we can at once make out a schedule of available land and say, "There are so many thousand acres, go and take them," is to ignore entirely the first principles of Agricultural calculation. You cannot keep land waiting. If you do it is going back. It must be kept cultivated all the time. You cannot bring land out for sale like a horse or like furniture at an auction. Someone has to be at work cultivating it all the time or it will go back. That is the main difficulty attaching to all these schemes for trying to make arrangements before the actual operation.
I notice that powers are taken by the Board to act themselves if the county councils do not carry out their powers. I should like to ask by what machinery the Board can carry out that very responsible duty? So far as I know they have now Commissioners for groups of counties. Is it possible for those men to deal with the intricate problems which may arise in a case in which a council is not doing enough? A very great deal of detail would have to be gone into in every individual case—selection of the land, selection of the tenant, his training and settlement on the land, and dealing with him when he is there. I do not know how the Board could do that, and I shall be very much obliged if the hon. and gallant Gentleman could give us some particulars later on as to what machinery they intend to employ for this purpose. I should like to emphasise again the objection that has been raised to the pooling of the resources of county councils in connection with small holdings. Some county councils have done extremely well; they have worked most carefully and have not wasted money. Others may have been careless; some may have been unfortunate. It would be very hard on a county that has done well if its resources were pooled with those of other counties and the fruits of its good work were thereby lost to it. I welcome particu- 2628 larly the advances which are to be made to smallholders under the Bill. Obviously, one thing that is most necessary, and indeed absolutely vital to success, is that they should have the opportunity of being financed to a certain extent. Of course, that financing will have to be done carefully, but I think that without it no scheme would be worthy of consideration at all. Finally, I should like to say a word as to the position of the tenantry who are dispossessed. I think it is an unfortunate thing that the Government should have put the words "fourteen days' notice" into Clause 2. That is a point that every farmer would raise an objection to. I quite realise that, as has been said, it is not a real objection, and can be got over, but I think it would have been far better not to put those words in at all.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
We had to put in some limit of time. What the Clause does is to get rid of the necessity of making a deposit. Now you can enter directly the deposit is made. Unless you put in some term, it would mean that you can go in without any notice at all.
§ Major LANE-FOX
I am very much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The subject is extremely complicated, and my only desire is that when the Bill goes into Committee the details shall be made absolutely clear. I know that he is as anxious as I am that farmers should not be frightened by this Clause. Certainly we shall have to turn tenants out of what must, in some cases, be the very best bits of land that there are—the very eyes of the farm. It is no use disputing that. You cannot do that at short notice without fully compensating the landholder. It is very much easier to estimate the value of what you are taking from an owner. If you take a man's land it can be valued in plain terms, but it is almost impossible to assess the damage you may do to the occupier of a farm by taking one particular portion. The better the farm, the better the tenant, the worse you may injure him by some action of this kind, and I do plead, in the interests of those who really are doing their utmost to keep agriculture up to the highest possible level, that these cases shall be fully and completely compensated, and the greatest generosity shown to those who deserve it. It is no use saying that you can take the land which has been allowed to go practically out of cultivation. If men from the Army are going to be settled on the land, 2629 you cannot give them scraps here and there. You must give them a good chance, otherwise you had better not give them a chance at all. There are bound to be cases of hardship, particularly for those who have cultivated their land well, and who deserve well of the country. I hope that these facts will be considered, and that the fact will go abroad throughout the country that the claims of the farmers are going to be fairly considered, because that will do a great deal to facilitate operations under this Bill.
§ Mr. SEDDON
Notwithstanding the chorus of approval, I must confess that I am bitterly disappointed with the provisions of this Bill. My memory goes back to the year 1915, when a sort of plebiscite was taken on the Western Front as to the number of men who would like to settle upon the land when they came home. Since then we have been waiting for the new policy which was to make this country a land fit for heroes to live in. Now we have this Bill, and if ever there was an example of the mountain in travail bringing forth a mouse we have it in these particular proposals. I agree with the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Sir R. Winfrey), who said there had been delay in this matter. My opinion is that there has been criminal delay. An hon. Member who spoke from the Labour Benches as a farmer, said that there were excuses and reasons for the delay. But what reasons can outweigh the disappointment which will be felt by the men who in 1915 were asked whether they were prepared to settle upon the land, and who gave their consent, and yet when they come back home find that they have to wait probably a year? There is a consensus of opinion that, however much of a hustle is put on under this Bill, it will be another year before any large number can be settled on the land. I had looked forward to land settlement for our returned heroes as a new conception of national life. It would remove a good deal of what was industrial destruction of our national life. It can be said truthfully that no nation can exist in the forefront of the world's competition, and be healthy, virile, and strong, if it has to content itself with an urban population and with a dwindling rural population. It was necessary that any proposals in regard to this matter should be on a liberal scale, and that the men should feel assured that when they came back they would be dealt with faithfully and generously so far as the Government were concerned. Some of 2630 the provisions of this Bill appear to be drawn so as to make it impossible for men to be domiciled on the land.
Clause 1 says that the Board of Agriculture are not to be required to confirm any Order for the compulsory acquisition of land for small holdings A county council may be progressive, yet it cannot acquire land for small holdings without the consent of the Board of Agriculture. We are up against the possible position that we may have a reactionary President of the Board of Agriculture. We may have a county council anxious to find land for small holdings, but a great territorial magnate, who may be more or less—I will not say a friend, because that would be an impeachment of the honour of Cabinet Ministers, who are all honourable and above suspicion—but there is such a thing as atmosphere, and I can quite understand a large territorial landowner coming into collision with the county council and wanting to resist the splitting up of his estate or the breaking up of large farms. There are some landowners who believe in large farms and there are others who believe in small farms; and I can quite understand the large landowner whose policy or philosophy is large farms, if he has any influence with the Board of Agriculture, resisting the county council under this Bill. Therefore it is an anomaly that the Board of Agriculture can refuse to give its assent to the proposals of any county council. There is no Court of Appeal beyond the President of the Board of Agriculture, and the Board can turn down any proposal made by a progressive county council which wishes to carry out the promises made by politicians at the election, without any Court of Appeal. To that extent the Bill is weak and faulty. Then there is the question of the period. I understood that, according to the promises made—none made more eloquently than by the Prime Minister and many hon. Members sitting on this side of the House—the new policy of land settlement was to be permanent. Evidently the Board of Agriculture, although it is responsible for this Bill, do not believe in their own professions or their own promises, because this measure is confined to two years.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
That is not so; that simply refers to the drastic powers of acquisition. The very swift powers we get under the Bill are confined to the emergency period of two years. The existing 2631 law will continue after that. We want to acquire land quickly, and for two years we have certain drastic powers.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I am glad to have that interpretation. I was certainly under a wrong impression. I said that more in the interests of the returned soldiers than by way of criticising the Government or their proposals. I wish to support the strong appeal made on behalf of allotment-holders. I happen to be one of those individuals who developed a love of nature through the exigencies of the War. There are hundreds of thousands of men like myself who were too old to fight, but who, as a patriotic duty, undertook cultivation they had never done before. They may have been very poor things to the expert, but the best vegetables I have ever eaten were those I planted and grew myself. That applies to tens of thousands of men who have taken up this work from a patriotic standpoint. I would appeal to the hon. Gentleman to see that no injustice is done to this class of useful citizens, who, in the nation's hour of need, undertook this work and had now developed a desire to continue the good work which was thrust upon them by necessity. I hope that our agricultural policy is going to be on much more liberal lines so far as regards the men who cultivate the soil than it has been in the past. I am going to make a frank confession. I was a member of Lord Milner's Commission. I undertook to inquire into the land problem, not according to my pre-war party predelictions, but according to the evidence brought before me. I was firmly convinced that the pre-war conditions, economic and otherwise, with regard to agriculture would spell disaster in the post-war period unless we adopted other methods of dealing with the great question of agriculture. Therefore I have an open mind and am not pledged to any shibboleth whatever. My first concern is the welfare of the country to which I belong. Agriculture is just as essential as any other form of industry, and I am prepared to support any scheme that will bring prosperity and security to agriculture. I believe there is a need for much greater cultivation both of allotments and small holdings. I can conceive that with proper encouragement, with swift transit, and with shorter hours in our great industries you will have a number of small allotment-holders who will want to go further into the country. I want our allotments to be in the country 2632 as well as in the neighbourhood of towns. It is out of the allotment-holders that you will develop your smallholders, and I hope that out of your smallholders you will develop the yeoman class which was rapidly disappearing in this country. Therefore, while I am disappointed with the feeble proposals of this Bill, I will give it what support I can, in the hope that the Bill foreshadowed by the hon. Gentleman for a larger scheme will be so wide in its conception that it will make this country a prosperous agricultural country as well as an industrial country, and will bring back to our countryside that noble peasantry which must be a nation's pride.
§ Major-General Sir NEWTON MOORE
The Prime Minister, in his election address, said that a systematic effort should be made to bring the people back to the land. As one who has devoted a considerable portion of his public life to the question of settlement on the land. I am naturally very much interested in this proposal. I must confess, in common with the last speaker, that I am somewhat disappointed, in the first instance, because we have no knowledge of how many soldiers it is proposed to settle on the land. I understood there were something like 800,000 men who intimated, provided that facilities were given, that they would be glad to avail themselves of the opportunity to settle on the land. Agriculture is one of the mainsprings of a country's prosperity, and in this attempt which the Government are making to encourage development I give them every credit. I speak with a considerable amount of diffidence, in view of the fact that I am not acquainted with the agricultural conditions existing in this country. I realise that it is a very much simpler matter to settle a large number of people on the land in a new country. I remember that when I first went into politics in a responsible position it was my ambition to see that my native country, which was then importing foodstuffs, should become an exporter of foodstuffs. I am glad to say that within five years we were in a position to export some 12,000,000 bushels of wheat. How was that done? We realised that in settling men on the land the first thing is to make the land available, and that when you have got the land you must give the men you propose to settle upon it adequate means of transport. What is the use of men settling on land which is miles 2633 away from a railway station? We initiated a policy of agricultural development under which we provided for 1,000 miles of light railway for £1,000,000. It was essential that the men should get their produce to the market in the cheapest possible way. Instead of their dragging it over indifferent roads at a cost of 1s. per ton per mile, by putting down an agricultural railway we were able to transport it at 1d. per ton per mile. If the Government of this country become owners of the railways they will be able to give considerable assistance to agriculture. We dealt with comparatively poor land, land that you would not look at in this country for agricultural purposes, some only yielding about ten or twelve bushels per acre. Consequently it was absolutely essential that we should do everything possible to encourage the settler by giving him the opportunity of securing artificial manure at the cheapest possible price, carrying it at a farthing a ton a mile, and although we were actually losing on the freight of the manure we were making money on the increased return freight after the harvest was garnered as the result of the stimulant applied.
We also found it essential in settling a poor man on the land to advance him the necessary capital, and I am rather disappointed to find that no attempt has been made in this Bill to establish an agricultural bank. It is rather a pettifogging provision that the Government should rely on a local bank and guarantee the man's account. That seems to be the only provision that is made for financial assistance. How is the Government going to see that such money is expended in the way proposed. An agricultural bank would have its own inspectors who would be able to see that the money advanced was expended in the right way. By means of the establishment of an agricultural bank in the State with which I was connected we were able to settle some thousands of men on the land. We advanced them assistance up to £500, pound for pound, according to the value of the work done. Beyond that, we advanced them 50 per cent, on the work as it was completed, giving them thirty years to repay the amount advanced, for the first five years simply paying interest, the sinking fund commencing after five years. The first few years is the critical period and every possible consideration should be given during that time. The War has demonstrated that there is room for enormous expansion as far as food production is concerned, but the 2634 problem to be overcome is to provide for uncultivated land being made available on such terms and conditions as will permit of a man without capital being able, with the assistance of the State, to become a producer. I do not at all like Clause 10, which provides that the land shall be sold at the best price obtainable. That very often means that a man who has got more money, but probably will not make such a success as a settler, is given a preference over a man who is more capable but who has not got the same capital, and it seems to me if this is to be made a success you will have to take very much stronger powers than you have at present in regard to the compulsory resumption of the land.
Exception was taken on the Land Assessment Bill the other night that no provision had been made to secure to the Government the benefit of the betterment of the land. You cannot make legislation retrospective, but it would be quite competent for the Government to take the necessary steps to secure to the State in the future the unearned increment which results from public expenditure. We were faced with the same difficulty in laying down agricultural railways. In cases where large areas had been selected we found very often that while we provided facilities for a large number of new settlers the man who was actually on the land and owned the largest area secured the benefit of the public outlay. To meet this in all our railway Acts we inserted a Clause providing that with the object of encouraging the cultivation and settlement of the land the Governor might compulsorily purchase any land in parcels of not less than a thousand acres within fifteen miles of either side of the railway which was certified by the Minister of Land as suitable for agricultural settlement, and that no regard should be had to any increased value occasioned by the railway, and that the purchase money should be assessed at such a price as the land might have been expected to realise if offered for sale at the date the land was taken, and as if the railway had not been constructed or authorised. By taking that necessary precaution the State reaps the benefit of the increased value as the result of the expenditure of public money. I hope the Bill will meet with the success which the hon. Gentleman anticipates. Anything I have to say is not in the way of destructive criticism, and possibly the view of one who has been 2635 associated with land settlement in another country may be of some value. I realise the difficulties that attend any proposal for land settlement in this country which all spring from one parent source, that is the problem of securing land at an economical value, permitting of holdings being made available for partially trained agriculturists at such a price as will give them a fair opportunity of making a living. These proposals are not restricted to men born and bred on the land. The chances are that men born and bred as agriculturists will make a success anywhere, but you are dealing with men who have had very little experience. I understand some provision is made for training the men. Whether it is to take the shape of training in State farms or agricultural colleges I do not know, but it is certainly essential that some provision should be made. The men are entitled to sympathetic and practical advice, because unless there is someone to advise and instruct them they will not make a success. They should be given most favourable terms for purchase on the easiest conditions of repayment and liberal financial assistance. I am very glad that provision is made for a man to obtain his own freehold. If you are going to encourage the settlement of a class of man who will be contented and happy you cannot do better than encourage him to acquire his own freehold, and I hope that in amending legislation the period of repayment will be extended to twenty-five or thirty years. It certainly seems that there is no help for it, but that the State will have to bear the burden of the difference between the actual economic value and the cost which would be paid if the land was put up to auction. I read with some interest a publication issued by the Ministry of Reconstruction dealing with land settlement. It was stated there that the older countries cannot afford to lose their men, and that they are as far as possible to be retained at home and offered inducements which will render settlement in the Mother Country at least as attractive as overseas. I do not think the hon. Gentleman could contend that in this measure there is anything as attractive as some of the Overseas Dominions give in the way of settlement on the land. I do not think he could have been responsible for the authorship of that document judging from his remarks in introducing the Bill.
§ Sir N. MOORE
I think it would be just as well if the hon. Gentleman acted as censor in future to whoever is responsible for the publication of such publications. It is also stated that there is no land more rich or more desirable than that of Great Britain. That may or may not be true, but the crux of the matter is, Can the land be made available on such terms as will be a sufficient inducement to retain the men here? Of course, there is the other side of the shield. I am not going to advocate emigration, but there is a good deal to be said on the other side. The Government must realise that a certain number of men are going overseas in any case. They have mixed with soldiers from the Colonies, and they are desirous of taking up land, and if they cannot obtain it here they are going overseas. Over 1,000,000 men flocked to the standard in this War from the Colonies, and you will not be doing any harm in sending men from these islands to stock those huge continents which are unpopulated and undeveloped. When you realise that in the State of Western Australia there is only a population of 325,000 and an area of 1,000,000 square miles, it will be seen that if we are to hold that country and develop it we must have population. The Reconstruction Report to which I have referred, states that British farming has obtained a relatively high standard of perfection. I think such an assertion is hardly correct. There has been a most lamentable lack of scientific and technical training in this country in regard to agriculture. In fact, I think the hon. Gentleman, in discussing his Estimates, agreed that we were far behind so far as scientific agricultural training is concerned. The Government should get a move on in this respect, and the sooner the better, if they are to make a success of their land settlement schemes. Compared with Germany, we have been hopelessly behind in agricultural development. In 1913 Germany had seventy-five out of every 100 acres under the plough, while Great Britain had only thirty-three out of every 100 acres under the plough. I mention this as another instance of the unwise publications that come from the Reconstruction Department. I should like to see experimental farms established in various centres, so that a man who is taking up 2637 land may have some knowledge of what is being done in the matter of up-to-date agriculture.
In Committee, if there is anything I can in a, small way do to assist the hon. Member in shaping the measure, I should be only too delighted to do it. I realise that he has a big job ahead of him, but he has the best wishes of everybody in the task he has undertaken, I am quite in accord with those hon. Members who have spoken in regard to allotment-holders, and especially the two hon. Members representing London divisions, as to the necessity of giving further consideration to the present holders of allotments. Their active, strenuous work in the days of food shortage in supplementing substantially our supplies entitles them to generous treatment, and where possible to security of tenure. The measure is a really honest attempt to fulfil the pledges of the Government, and while I am disappointed in some respects, I realise the great difficulties of the Government in giving effect to their pledges. It is very easy to talk on an election platform about the necessity of placing our soldiers on the land, but it is a very different matter to bring that into successful fruition.
§ Colonel Sir ROBERT WILLIAMS
I do not want to go into the details of the Bill, but I desire to direct attention to one particular Sub-clause before the Committee stage, and that is Sub-clause (4) of Clause 25, which gives the county committees power to develop the social life in our rural districts. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has forgotten that the Board of Agriculture have already entrusted that duty to another body, a new body but a very active one in many places, and that is the Women's Institute. They have got what is practically a charter from the Board of Agriculture, and they have also got a Grant from the Board, and one of the things which is given to them to do is to promote social development in rural parts of the country. I believe this new body is part of the Board of Agriculture, but I believe they are being disbanded so far as the Board of Agriculture is concerned, and are going on their own, with a Government Grant. Under Clause 25, Sub-section (4), we are going to have competing bodies doing the same work. I do not want to take the work away from either of them, but I would suggest that if the women are not to come under the 2638 Bill as at present drafted, that they should have official representatives on the agricultural committee or they should be represented in some other way, so that they might be brought into touch with the agricultural committee, and so be enabled to fulfil that which is their charter from the Board of Agriculture, seeing that in many parts of the country they are doing very valuable work.
§ Sir ROBERT NEWMAN
I will not detain the House long, because I believe that, in the House of Commons, brevity is the soul of wit. I wish to draw attention to Clause 10, and to ask for information. It seems to me that Clause 10 contains one very unfortunate provision. It says that preference shall be given to men who have served in the present War. Is it really necessary to confine it to the present War? It seems to me very unfair, if not somewhat insulting, to the veterans who have fought in other wars. For instance, during the South African campaign. It may be said that this is a Bill which is going to deal with the present situation, but I would point out that there are many men who served in the Boer War who have not had an opportunity of acquiring land, and I submit that they ought to be considered under this Bill. I think the Committee might consider the desirability of removing the words "the present War." There are some men between fifty and sixty who have served in other wars, and it is hard that preference should be given to those who have served in the present War and that they should be left out. Preference is also to be given to women who have served in agriculture during the present War. It may happen that a man who served in the Boer War may be passed over and preference given to his daughter, who may have been engaged in the present War for only six months.
It seems rather regrettable that in this great period of social reconstruction every measure contains some coercive Clauses with respect to local authorities. It is very unfortunate that local authorities do not appear to be capable of rising to this great emergency. Perhaps that is the feeling of the House, as is shown by the support given by these coercive Clauses. I think that feeling is also felt in the country. The effect of these Clauses is to make the Minister responsible ultimately for the work. Therefore, if we 2639 do not get houses in sufficient number, it will be the fault ultimately of the President of the Local Government Board; and if we do not get a sufficient number of men settled on the land, it will be the fault ultimately of the President of the Board of Agriculture. If a revolution results as an outcome of their failure, I suppose we may expect the two highest lamp-posts on the Thames Embankment will be selected as their ultimate place of deposit. It is of the greatest importance that Bills of this kind should secure the general confidence of the country. I think the Government are to be congratulated upon it. It is a really honest effort, I think, to meet the demand which has arisen not only out of the general situation but out of the pledges given at the General Election. I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister in charge of the Bill say that when the decentralisation of the Board of Agriculture takes place, that measure is to be brought before this House. It is very interesting to hear that there are proposals for decentralising administration which is concentrated at Whitehall, and I trust that that measure will be followed by others. We should like a measure which would give us some idea of the way in which the new Minister of Ways and Communications is going to decentralise his Department.
The object of this Bill is to get land quickly and to get it at a fair price, but I want to be quite clear that the effect of Clause 1 is going to be as drastic as has been represented to us. I have before me the Report of the Acquisition of Land Committee, in which they deal with the procedure in respect of the compulsory acquisition of land under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, and it is stated that the procedure is taken in six steps. So far as I understand Clause 1, it will wipe out the necessity of submitting an Order to the Board of Agriculture and getting its confirmation, but I suppose it will still be necessary to proceed with other steps. First of all, an Order has to be promoted by the local authority for getting any powers as regards land under the powers of the Land Clauses Act (2). The Order must be published for not less than one month by advertisement, and a copy must be furnished to the interested parties. The third step, submission of Order to the Board of Agriculture, will, I suppose, be withdrawn, and also the further step of getting confirmation. 2640 What about the fifth step, which is that if objection is made public inquiry is to be held by the Board of Agriculture? I suppose that will still take place.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
No Confirmation cannot take place if there is objection until there has been a public inquiry, but the effect of Clause 1 would be to wipe out altogether public inquiry, and we reckon that, on the whole, Clause 1 will save something like three months.
I am glad to hear that, and I hope it will be brought out very clearly in the country. The position is that the Minister of Agriculture has practically the same power in regard to compulsory acquisition of land under this Bill as had the Minister of War under the Defence of the Realm Act.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Let me make it clear. A county council proposes to acquire certain land. They have to get our assent in advance. That is necessary because they are spending our money, and we want to see the finance is on a reasonable basis. Once we have given our assent they can go right ahead and all public inquiry is dispensed with.
I think that explanation shows that the Government are really in earnest in this matter, and have brushed aside all the complicated procedure which has hitherto been necessary in order to acquire land. If land is not obtained almost immediately, on demand, the responsibility will rest upon the Minister of Agriculture, who will have in his hands absolute power to deal with the acquisition of land. He does not need to hold any public inquiry, and he does not need to listen to any objection. Once he is satisfied that the land should be taken, it is within his power to give an order that the 2641 land shall be acquired. I think that is a very great advance, and I think that action taken by the Government in this Bill does entitle them to expect from Members of this House, and from the country generally, an expression of opinion that they are really and substantially carrying out their pledges in regard to this matter.
We are going to get the land as quickly as can be obtained. The next question is, Are we going to get it at as reasonable a price as possible? We are all agreed that there has been what has been called an inflation in the value of land. There is nothing particular to land in that. The value of all commodities has been inflated, and a great many other things have been inflated, much more than land, but the public is particularly susceptible to inflation in land values. If the confidence of the country is to remain with the Government and to be given to this measure, the public must be satisfied that this inflation in the value of land is not passing into the pocket of the particular landlord. There is common ground that there has been this inflation in the value of land and that the inflated value should not be paid by the State.
Those who are interested as owners of land have shown very commendable spirit in this House in the attitude they have taken up towards this question, and if they represent the whole of the landowning section in this country in that point of view, there ought to be no difficulty in coming to such a settlement in regard to the price as should satisfy the country. There is no difference in principle. The only question is one of method. The right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) suggested that instead of buying now we should lease, and at the end of five or seven years we should make revaluation, and decide then whether to buy or not. I would not care to commit myself to that as being a proper procedure. The advantage is that if there is a fall in these inflated values during that period the State will be able to buy at the end more cheaply than at the present time. The proposal was received, I will not say with derision, but as being impracticable. I think that there is nothing at all impracticable about it. I think that it is quite within the competence of an ordinary valuer. I am quite sure that you 2642 could go into any market town in England and come across a firm of valuers who would be prepared to make a valuation of the holding as it exists at the present time, and at the end of the five years would be prepared to make a valuation as it exists then, and there would be no difficulty in arriving at the difference between the two. The real objection, I think, was not so much any question of the difficulty of making the different valuations at the different periods, but that in making the final valuation you had to separate your valuers into what was due to land itself, and what was due to the improvements that had been made by the local authority.
I admit that there is some difficulty in doing that, but it is not insuperable as is proved by the fact that it is continually being done at the present time. Every valuation that is made under the Finance Act, to determine the Increment Value Duty of land is a valuation of that kind, and though a great deal has been said with regard to the unfairness of that duty nothing has ever been advanced as to impossibility of making the calculation, and the calculation is continually being made, and duty is being paid upon it. So that so far as the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Peebles is concerned, it is a perfectly practicable one. The hon. Member for Horncastle (Lieutenant-Colonel Weigall) suggested that what might be done is that a valuation should be made at the present time and that 10 or 15 or 20 per cent, should be knocked off the valuation in order to make allowance for the inflated value. That is a perfectly proper method to adopt if it is agreed to. It means that you accept the fact that there is an inflated value, and you say you reduce that by a certain amount. Then the hon. Member for Ripon (Major Wood) made a suggestion which would probably command general confidence, and that was that a valuation should be made, that practically the pre-war value could be agreed, and that you might determine as between the pre-war value and the present value the amount described as the inflated value, that the pre-war value might be paid in cash, and interest might be paid on the inflated value, and at the end of five or seven years, if you discovered that the inflated value was really a permanent value, then you might pay it, and if it were not a permanent value it would disappear.
2643 The hon. Member for Norfolk (Sir R. Winfrey) suggested that a perpetual rent charge might be adopted. That is again a perfectly proper way of meeting the difficulty. It has this effect, that it does stereotype the present value, but on the other hand it avoids raising any great sum in the way of capital. It is perfectly clear that there would be no difficulty in arriving at figures which would satisfy the country that a proper price is being paid. If the Government desire with this measure to secure the confidence of the country, and the belief that a proper price will be paid for this land, they will use the services of that great Valuation Department which is part of their own machinery. No suggestion has been made either in the Housing Bill or in this Bill that the services of the Valuation Department are going to be used, and I think that the inference is bound to be drawn from that that there is some prejudice with regard to their use. If we could be assured that the acquisition of no property would be sanctioned by the Treasury unless the Treasury had in the first instance ascertained through its own machinery of valuation that the price which was going to be paid was a fair price, then a great deal would be done towards securing confidence in this very important question. If that suggestion is adopted, it seems to me that all that could be reasonably expected on these two vital questions of time and cost will be done, and that this great instrument, placed in the hands of a Minister with great power, as one of the chief instruments of reconstruction in our country, to bring about that development of rural life which all of us realise is a great factor in the future, would triumphantly achieve its purpose.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I must congratulate the Government on the way in which this Bill has been received. We all think that it is a genuine attempt to deal with a difficult question indeed. There will be a great many points to be made in Committee, and I feel sure that the Ministers in charge will be ready to receive friendly suggestions on points of detail when the Bill goes upstairs. It is inevitable in a Bill of this kind that many of the Clauses must be drafted by reference to existing Clauses in other measures, but no doubt we shall get full particulars as to the exact meanings of those references when the Bill is in Committee. One thing which emerged this afternoon is that the 2644 Government should try to see whether some means could not be worked out for meeting the point that has been made by the right hon. Member for Peebles and other persons in the course of the Debate. I believe that if we could be certain that all landowners would act in the admirable spirit expressed this afternoon by those who have spoken on their behalf there would be no need for any special provisions in this Bill. I believe that the vast bulk of men, especially with regard to the settlement of these men on the land, wish to allow the land to be taken on perfectly reasonable terms, but it would be useful that the county council should have in reserve, to use in special cases, the power to do some of those things, with regard to which certain alternatives have been suggested this afternoon, which would at any rate allow a provisional temporary arrangement to be made over a certain series of years, and agreements, only to be made permanent by payment of the full agricultural price of the land when it is seen whether or not the estimate of value which was arrived at, at a time when the land was taken over, remains a few years later when agricultural prices have perhaps fallen to a more natural level. It is very difficult to dogmatise as to the exact plan, but I feel quite certain that the Government will try to work out some plan for meeting that point.
With regard to allotments—Members for London Divisions have criticised the action of the Board. I can only say, as chairman of the Allotments Committee of the Agricultural Organisation Society, which has worked very closely in reference to allotments in connection with the Board all through the War, we have found that, under considerable difficulties very often, they have done very good and sympathetic work with regard to allotments and have done their very best to acquire the land which was so vitally necessary for the splendid efforts that allotment-holders have made and are going to see that that land shall be retained wherever it can be for continual cultivation. We all agree that the allotment cultivator has come to stay. Quite apart from continuance of the food emergency, thousands of people have become tremendously interested in their plots, and it is absolutely a first-class part of their life's employment. In that way they get their only real access to nature, and they make it their chief enjoyment of life. I received a letter the other day 2645 from the President of the Board of Agriculture. He wrote in regard to the intentions of his Board, and as to their powers of retaining possession of allotment land. It seems to me, in reference to the claims and criticisms that have been advanced from several quarters, that the line he took, was, on the whole, as good as one could expect. He said that they intend fully to avail themselves of their powers under the Defence of the Realm Act in order to retain possession of the land, in all cases except where they are satisfied that the land is required immediately for building—that presumably excludes the cases where the land has only a speculative value for building—or where the compensation payable for retention would be excessive. As the Board itself has to pay those charges for compensation for retention it seems to me that they were justified in making that point also.
The President added that they would be able to retain the land subject to those two provisions for two years from the end of the War and for a further period of five years with the consent of the Railway and Canal Commissioners. It seems to me that for the allotment-holders to have a reasonable prospect, unless the land is immediately required for housing, of having the land which was taken for war emergencies kept for five years after the War, even though it was taken under a special war provision, was, on the whole, a fairly reasonable state of things from their point of view. There ought to be during that time opportunity for the local authorities to acquire land when they have power to do so permanently for allotment purposes and town-planning purposes. In the development of the Board of Agriculture into a first-class Government Department, which was promised a few nights ago, provision should be made for keeping, with regard to this allotment question, very closely in touch with the authorities who are concerned; that is, on the one hand, with roads and with ways and communications, and, on the other hand, with housing. There was a report recently issued about the organisation of Government offices by a Committee of which Lord Haldane was chairman, and in that report it was suggested that in these matters you should set up a system of having liaison officers to keep public Departments in touch with one another. In this question I suggest that in the development of the Board of Agriculture there should be definite machinery for keeping in touch between 2646 roads and communications and housing, so that the three may go forward together. There is no doubt whatever that there is a great feeling throughout the country that the allotment policy and the housing policy ought to go hand in hand, and that where it is not possible—as very often it is not—to provide good gardens with the houses, that, at any rate, when you make a housing scheme the man will know that he can have a piece of land not far away and fairly convenient, and where for several years he is not likely to be dispossessed by a further advancing wave of house-building. I make that suggestion because I have the natural fear, which anyone who has been in the position of an administrator must have, that two big Departments of this kind might drift apart and might come to regard housing programmes and, allotment programmes as something to be pushed entirely separately. I desire, in conclusion, to congratulate the Minister in charge on the general reception of the Bill.
§ Mr. PEMBERTON BILLING
There are one or two points to which I desire to refer. I wish, first, to congratulate the Government on this new evidence of good faith on their part. It is now a question, not of relying on the good sense of the Government and the House of Commons in this matter, but more particularly on the Grand Committee which has to deal with the measure so that it may be made as favourable a measure as the country and the Government wish. On the question of valuation it seems to me that there is a simple method by which the valuation could be arrived at, and that is by taking the value of the land for the past twenty years, say, and then purchasing it on that value. Every landowner knows what his land has brought in for the last twenty years and to purchase it on twenty years' purchase of that value would, I think, be a fair way. If you like, you could arrange for a slight increase to be given in cases where you thought it right to do so. I understand that the Government propose, and very rightly, not to allow the question of negotiations with landowners to stand in the way or hold up its programme. That is perfectly sound, but we must remember that when once land is entered on and possession taken it is rather difficult to come to a settlement, and therefore it would be well to have some general idea which would afford some basis of agreement. The earning power of the land for 2647 the past twenty years would form a basis for twenty years' purchase and that would be some figure to start with. On the question of allotments, I do appeal to the Minister to give these people every possible consideration. The people concerned are mostly city workers who are generally unorganised. My experience has been that these allotments have not only assisted in time of war to grow food, but they have materially assisted the health of those engaged in them by the exercise which they obtained by performing this voluntary labour which is no tax on anyone, but lather a benefit. There is, then, the question of the soldiers. The general opinion seems to be that all a soldier wants in return for his services is five acres of clay. I have had some experience in farming, both in this country and in the Colonies. My experience is that it entirely depends on two things, namely, the quality of the soil or the ability of the man engaged on it to spend a large sum of money to make it productive, and, above all things, experience in the spending of that money. That should be mostly based on the experience of the chemist, and by consulting him the farmer could make his holding very much more profitable. If we expect the average soldier with five acres of land to be not only a commercial proposition but a proposition which is to bring any happiness to himself or to his family, I am afraid the idea is utterly absurd. I would submit to the Government that before they give any soldier any land they should test his ability to make it productive, and that they should form some kind of agricultural college where all applicants, soldiers and others, would be required to go. I met recently many of my comrades of the South African War, some of whom are experiencing hard days, and who are, I think, deserving of as much consideration as those engaged in this War. They did their bit to the best of their ability, and I certainly think they deserve a little consideration. But before any land is given to either soldiers of this War or any previous war, I trust that the Government will be satisfied that the men are temperamentally suited to farming, and that we should not rush men on to the land unless they are so suited, and are prepared to rise, both in winter and summer, before the sun rises, and under the extraordinarily depressing conditions from which we suffer. I suggest that every applicant for a farm might well be given 2648 the opportunity of joining an agricultural college where for six months he might rise before the sun rises and go to bed along with it, as is necessary, and generally be given some idea of the quality of the land and some experience in the sort of stuff to grow in the various soils, and a general knowledge of either dairying or general production. If at the end of six months, having lived in the way I have described, he still wishes to go on the land, then by all means let the Government do everything in their power to give him a fresh start, and not only see that he is qualified, but that the land and the conditions are calculated to make productive smallholders rather than disappointed soldiers.
In rising to support generally the provisions of this Bill I should like to associate myself with all that has been said on the allotment question. I have been intimately associated with the allotment question since 1889. I have been a member of a local authority which has made the allotment question one of the principal items in its agenda for the last twenty-seven years continuously, and I am still chairman of that district council which is the largest district council in Great Britain. In 1889 All Souls College, Oxford, which possesses a great amount of land in the district which I represent, approached me and asked my opinion as to whether the allotment question would be appreciated in that district. I said at once I thought it would. We had a considerable number of railwaymen, postmen, and policemen, who, according to their avocations, had a considerable amount of daytime on their hands, and the majority of the men in the building trade in that neighbourhood were countrymen, and so I thought the allotment question would be appreciated. They immediately set aside 20 acres for that purpose. The land was taken up immediately, and I am proud to say that I was one of the first applicants. From that day it has grown until to-day in that particular district we have no fewer than 420 acres of allotments, representing more than one-eleventh of the whole of the district in the hands of the cultivation of vegetables in allotments. Three hundred acres out of the 420 are what we may call permanent allotments, by which I mean that All Souls College and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who own most of the land on which the allotments are situated, have handed it over to the district council on 2649 fairly long leases. Previous speakers have referred to the needs of allotment-holders who had simply acquired their allotments during the last two or three years under war emergency conditions, but in my opinion this question applies to all. They are all anxious for some security of tenure. Therefore I hope some consideration at least will be given to those men who have done such great good, not only during the last two or three years, but during the whole time they have held allotments. I could give even personal experiences. I speak to-day as a builder, and at the time when that allotment of 20 acres was first put at the disposal of our district I had men working for me—and they have acknowledged it on the public platform since—who immediately they had their money on Saturday at 12 o'clock went off to the nearest public-house until they were fetched by their wives. I suppose that is not confined to one particular neighbourhood, but immediately those allotments were started many of those men took them up, and from that time, instead of going direct to the place I mentioned, they went direct to their allotments. Their tea was brought up by their wives and children, and there they spent their time and produced that which they were only longing to get the opportunity to produce. Therefore I hope some security of tenure will be given, not only to those who have come on during this emergency, but to those who have stuck to it during the last thirty years.
As regards the Bill itself, I am delighted to find that at last the agricultural labourer and the soldier agricultural labourer are going to be recognised and given an opportunity of securing land where they will get the fruits of the sweat of their own brow. I speak to-day as the son of an agricultural labourer, born in an agricultural labourer's cottage, and, although I cannot bring forward such terrible cases as we have seen from the mining districts, yet attached to that cottage there was not enough ground to grow even the potherbs required for the ordinary cooking. I am now delighted to find that these men will be given an opportunity which in the past even the small holders have not had. I welcome these ways and communications, which will give the smallholders, present and prospective, an opportunity of getting their goods to the market at a cheap rate and a quick rate, which they have been denied in the past. I hold that the average agricultural 2650 labourer is more highly skilled than the man in any other industry. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, being a joiner myself and having worked in most of the big cities of this country and on the high joiner's work turned out on the Clyde or in West End mansions in London, I hold that the average agricultural labourer is at better man than myself. He has more technical knowledge and can turn his hand to more things than I can as a joiner. While I may do a high piece of joiner's work, my father could either sheer a sheep-or kill it, if it had to be done "to save its life," which is often done on a farm. He could mow and reap. I quite recollect in my village, long before there was a machine for this work, when they had to-do all reaping by the hook and mowing with the scythe, and I say the all-round agricultural labourer is as highly skilled as any mechanic, whatever strong union he may have behind his back. I therefore rejoice that this Bill has been introduced and that it will give these men in the future some opportunity of acquiring land and of benefiting by the work which they put into the land.
§ Mr. CAIRNS
I am disappointed with the whole of the discussion. I had a question down to-day—To ask Mr. Attorney-General whether her will introduce provisions in the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Bill so that land that has been closed by Enclosure Acts, beginning with the last century, shall be considered as stolen land, and be compulsorily taken without any compensation for such land.This House has not got all the intelligence of Britain. There is a reading public outside that reads everything that is said here, and much that is not said. I put a question to the Prime Minister about a fortnight ago, and got a reply that there have been 84,000 acres of land enclosed. This seems to me to be a landlords' House. All the speeches have been to buttress landlordism, and there has been little or nothing said in defence of the worker. In the Bill it is just the same. When I buy an article from anyone I want to know whether it belongs to him or not. A thing belongs to you if you work for it, or it has been bequeathed to you, or you have got it by legal means. I want to know from the legal authorities in this House, and from the Government, as to whether the 83,000 acres have been stolen or not. There is an agricultural village in which 3,000 acres were taken in the year 1801. The agricultural people say that this land 2651 was stolen. The land of this country belongs to the people. If the Government nationalise railways, it is fairer to nationalise land, because land was there when man came, and you never can make any more land. Someone said there was a shortage of land for building purposes, and that was where the curse was going to come in. No, that is not where the curse is going to come in. The house I live in cost £250 for the site, and before that it was let at £l an acre. An estate of about 150 acres was bought for £5,000. The council in the distract wanted a few acres, and they were charged £500 an acre. If that is not profiteering and highway robbery, I do not know what is. If a poor man were to steal a hare or a rabbit on a common he would be tried before a bench of magistrates. Hon. Members may sit and smile, but there is a democracy outside. There was a by-election last week, and there has been a great change in the attitude of the electorate. There will not be coupon candidates at the next election. You may deceive the electorate once, but you will not continue to deceive it.
If this Bill is the mind of the Cabinet, it is a very poor one. I want this land. The people in the country want this land, but they do not want to pay £1,000 or £5,000 for a piece of land which we are still unconvinced was not stolen from the people. That is only in one county, and there you have 83,000 acres. When I went to school I was taught that there were fifty-two counties in England and Wales. Multiply that figure by fifty-two, and then go into Scotland and Ireland, and you will find the same thing going on. There are 500 acres at another little village near Hexham, and someone would have the audacity to charge £5,000 for an acre. Where are the title-deeds? What I say outside, I say inside. I have heard hon. Members on the bench opposite say that they make promises which they never carry out If I made promises at the General Election, I am going to try and carry them out, and. Minister or other Members, it does not matter how highly placed, if they make promises they ought to carry them out, because the intelligent electors outside will put the question to them when they go back to the constituency. I support the principle of land acquisition and this Land Bill, and I will give the Minister all the support I can. But our people will not buy land that has been stolen. 2652 That is what I have got to say, and I have said it. When the next election comes, I prophecy the Labour party will have a bigger number here.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Ernest Pollock)
I rise to answer a few of the points that have been made in the Debate, but I think I may say that the Debate has been remarkable for the fact that it has shown great unanimity in favour of the principle, and, indeed, I think I may also claim, in favour of the details of the Bill. So remarkable has that unanimity been that, although I have listened, if not entirely to the whole of the Debate, to almost all of it, I found the criticisms directed largely to matters which do not concern the Bill, and are not intended to be dealt with by the Bill, rather than to matters which are to be found within its four corners. Take, for instance, the remarks of the hon. Member who last sat down, and who has grave misgivings, which he has asked me to answer, on the question whether land which was taken under Enclosure Acts in the year 1802 can still be regarded as stolen land. I am glad to say, although I should have some misgiving in answering a great many legal conundrums he might put to me, without examination, I am glad to reassure him that those persons who are in possession of land which was taken in 1802 have got a good title, and that it is not to be treated as stolen land, because that land was enclosed under Enclosure Acts.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I took note of the dates the hon. Gentleman gave. If he will read a very interesting book on land enclosure, published in the course of the last five or six years, he will find a very interesting history explaining that Enclosure Acts were necessary, because at the time there was great difficulty in making use of land which had become practically waste land. By allotting it to various persons the land was brought under control and reclaimed for the purposes of cultivation and for pasture. Of course, that is a matter entirely outside this Bill; but I think I may say I am trying courteously to answer the question put to me by the hon. Member for Morpeth.
I pass on, then, to matters which concern this Bill. At the outset a question was asked as to the driving policy. One 2653 hon. Member asked: "Is there any driving policy here? Can it be said in any way that the Government are prepared to enforce the procedure that this Bill provides?" May I remind the House that this Bill is to be taken with and read with the Act of 1908, which has been in operation for some few years. It is interesting to know that the opportunity for smallholdings and allotments under that Act have been very widely indeed made use of. It has, perhaps, proved a much greater success than those who originally had to do with it might have been disposed to think. The Bill contains certain compulsory powers. We have been asked by one or two hon. Members as to whether these compulsory powers would be put into operation. I may reassure the House at once by saying that in the course of the life of the 1908 Act and before the War, some fifty out of sixty-three county councils used their compulsory powers. That ought to give us confidence that where public opinion as a whole is in favour of these schemes being used, in the Scottish phrase, to "implement," there is sufficient driving power and sufficient authority contained in the Acts to enable those bodies entrusted with the carrying of them out to take those powers and to enforce them.
The next point was as to the possible success of the Bill. That was a good deal canvassed and questioned. I suppose no one who has any knowledge of the history of small holdings or practical knowledge of the small holdings themselves would wish to be too confident on a matter of this sort. I remember hearing a long time ago a considerable landowner in a great agricultural county say that he was very anxious indeed to start as many small holdings as he could upon his estate, but in justice to the possibilities of the future in relation to his men, it would not be right on his part to offer to them the land on the conditions that then prevailed. He believed that they should have adequate remuneration. The circumstances under which those small holdings were held have gone. The conditions then would have been far different to what is offered to the smallholders under this Act. The observations of that landowner need not deter us in looking forward with hope. Furthermore, we have all, I think, made up our minds that so far as it is possible we will try to make the experiment as easy to the smallholders as possible and to give him as much guarantee of success as we can. We are determined 2654 that the experiment should be made. We believe, and those best qualified to hold an opinion believe, that if suitable men are selected and given an opportunity we need not he afraid of their success if they put the right energy into the movement. If we are to hesitate because we cannot guarantee success, well, that is the sort of spirit which prevents us bending our energies to agricultural, or for the matter of that, any improvement. "He that observeth the clouds shall not sow," is a very old maxim. I think we may believe it of agriculture at the present time, and try to see whether or not with an adequate aim, a fair opportunity, and the easy terms offered under this Act, the energy of those who are chosen will not be rewarded with success. If they need assistance hereafter, well, we shall have to consider that. We believe at present we are offering fair and reasonable prospects of success to those whom we desire to benefit.
So far I have dealt with the question of the possibility of success. Two hon. Members made some inquiry as to who were to be the persons elected for the purpose of this settlement—who were to have the opportunity? The first hon. Member was anxious that we should make grades amongst those who have come back from fighting for us; that we should offer priority to those who went out originally under what we may call the voluntary system, and in the second grade, give the opportunity to those who went out under the Compulsory Military Acts. The hon. Gentleman expressed himself rather strongly. I confess that for my part, I think it is a very unfair distinction to draw. A certain number of men were held back originally for reasons that were adequate and probably sufficient not only to them, but in relation to their duty to the State. When the duty of joining up became more insistent they were equally as ready to go as those who had previously gone. I think we should be engaging in a very arbitrary and unpleasant duty if we were to try and make rules to select between those men who had fought earlier or later, and who, at any rate, considering the time they have been serving, have borne the heat and burden of the day.
Another point was made by my hon. Friend opposite (Sir B. Winfrey). This related to the delay in introducing the Bill. His observations were strongly reinforced by another hon. Member. I was a 2655 little surprised to hear the Member for South-West Norfolk make the comment he did, because I expect to be at a distinct disadvantage in making any observations upon this last point. I feel he has knowledge of what had been going on in this matter for the last two years. I have none. I really think the answer has already been made in the House. The hon. Member opposite regrets the delay, and I think we all do. I offer no comment or observation on that point of view, but the real question is whether it was possible to do it earlier. Let us think what it means to start small holdings or allotments. We do not find them ready made. If we had already provided for the men who are now being demobilised or have been demobilised, what would the position have been? We should have had during the past two years to have taken the land, provided roads and better means of communication, fences, houses, cottages, and all that would have had to be done. Will any hon Member who thinks of the difficulties that we have passed through in the two years I am referring to say with any confidence or any credence that in the two years preceding 1918 we had an adequate supply of labour, material, bricks, and all the other requisites necessary for the purpose of making a successful allotment scheme? Remember that during the whole of that period we were gradually reducing the labour, material and the consumption of all those materials which were of primary moment to start these schemes. Although we all regret it, it has gone on and we have to begin now instead of earlier. I do not think it would be fair to impute any responsibility either to the late Government or those responsible for it, or any persons responsible in the present Government, and instead of spending our time in what might look like recrimination let us spend our efforts in unity and consonance in order to get the best results in the future.
Some questions were asked about town allotments, and the hon. Member opposite in a maiden speech described this Bill as a sham. I am not quite sure that the word was either well or advisedly chosen; but the question of allotments in urban areas is not really one that can be solved by any Government. We must all remember that in the very nature of things it is a very difficult problem, but I think those who have criticised us have rather overlooked the powers that at present exist and are 2656 being used. Let me remind them that in the 1908 Act the position is that there is power there for a town or urban district council to make a compulsory Order for the hiring of land for allotments on the terms that the rent to be paid will be merely the agricultural value of the land, without taking into account the respective building value. These powers are contained in Part II. of the Schedule. When a compulsory Order is made the owner can resume possession of the land under Section 46 if he proves not merely that he wishes to disturb the existing tenancy of allotments, but that the land is urgently needed for the purpose of building upon it. There you have a solution which has probably been overlooked, namely, that there is power at present to take open spaces which are not being used and to rent them at a small price, quite irrespective of their building value, and at the same time the interests of the owner are safeguarded in such a way that when the necessity for building arises he can, with proper notice and compensation, resume possession of the land.
What more can you do? One of the problems we have to solve is the Housing problem. We are all anxious that more houses should be built and slum areas removed, and that better housing accommodation should be provided in the centres of our great population. I think you will have to admit, if you think the problem out, that rather than use land which could be used for housing and is needed for that purpose to grow vegetables upon, or utilised for allotments, it would probably be a better use to devote it, in the present congestion of our population, to building purposes. If that be so, as my hon. Friend said in moving the Second Reading, you cannot allow the mere use for vegetable growing to detain or delay a system of housing, but you must if possible make use of the land that is not at the time occupied or needed for houses and use it for allotments. There is power to do this. I refer to this matter in order to remove the misgivings which some hon. Members may have had, that we are not taking at the present time adequate powers or making sufficient provision for the problem which they have got in their mind, and which undoubtedly is an important one, and for which a solution, as far as it can be found, is necessary. I turn now to the problem which has engaged most of the speakers, and on which considerable emphasis has 2657 been laid, and that is the question of the price which should be paid for the land. May I remind the House that that is a subject which is not within the ambit of this Bill. The acquisition of the land will be provided by the Acquisition of Land Bill which was moved by the Attorney-General the other day.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
The hon. Member is perfectly right in correcting me, but the criticism generally directed was to the price of the land which was taken compulsorily. That was the general spirit of the argument. I am not anxious to criticise individual speeches, but all I wish to say on that point is that the matter is one which does not fall within the ambit of this Bill. No doubt the land will have to be found under this Bill in accordance with the provisions of the Acquisition of Land Bill when it has become an Act, and I have no doubt that in this House we shall have very considerable discussion as to what are the proper and right terms to use in that Bill. May I point out that in regard to some of the suggested methods and alternatives which have been put forward very grave objection can be Offered. There was one put forward by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire which looked as simple as it possibly could be. He said that we should find out what the return has been to the landlord during the past ten years, and upon that basis he argued that you should give him the value up to whatever number of years purchase you like. You try to find out what has been the return, and often the land has not been let; it has been used for one purpose or another. You will not find that test is one which will carry any great quantity of land. You will find that a number of variations or deductions, or possibly additions, have to be made, and although it looks an easy standard to apply it is one to which just as many adjustments have to be made as any other test.
Another hon. Member suggested that you should take the valuation as contained in the Finance Act, 1910. Some of us who took part in the Debate, know the complexity of arriving at the one valuation—I hesitate to remind the House of it, because I feel that I am treading on dangerous ground—which is not mentioned in 2658 the Act, namely, the market value. I only mention that in order to show that all these various nostra which are put forward do not seem to me to offer an easy or speedy course to arrive at the actual value of the land. If we go off into these bypaths which belong to another Bill, shall we not lose sight of the aim and object which we have in view. Is it not wise to remember that this is a Bill for the purpose of making facilities for the settlement of those who have deserved so well of the State? When we know perfectly well that an opportunity will be given to the House to consider what ought to be the price paid for the, land under the Acquisition of Land Bill, surely we can bend our energies to the real scope and use of this Bill and try and make it as successful as we can without allowing ourselves to lose our way by introducing matters which properly belong to another subject and another Bill. I will not, therefore, go further into this question of valuation. I think it is better to leave it to the occasion when it can be more properly introduced.
Let me make a few comments in answer to the observations and criticisms that have been made upon this subject. I am in close agreement with the first criticism which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean). He says, "Why do you have an Act with so many references to other Acts?" It obviously creates some difficulty, I will not say from its complexity, but from its references. I have always held the view that so far as we possibly can we ought to write plain an Act of Parliament so that people may understand to what the Act refers and what are the intentions of its Sections. On the other hand, in a matter like small holdings it is necessary from time to time, and perhaps more frequently than Members would suppose, to do a certain amount of patchwork legislation in order to meet difficulties which have arisen. The Act of 1908, which after all is only eleven years old, brought within fairly reasonable compass the measures which were laid down for the purpose of small holdings and allotments at that time. The probability is that if we had determined to repeal that Act and to bring up the new plan in the form of a complete Bill putting the two or three Statutes which have to be considered, the Acts of 1908, 1916, and 1918, together, we should have had such a long Bill that more time would have had to be 2659 spent over it than it would have been worth. It is easier, therefore, to introduce a Bill—not very complicated in this particular case—which has to be read together with the Act of 1908, and when you read the Sections of both Acts together there is really much less difficulty in understanding it than there is in very complicated cases where you have ten or a dozen or more Acts to dovetail together.
I come now to one or two observations made by the hon. Member for the Spalding Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Royce). He was a good deal concerned as to the effect of Clause 10, which provides that land provided by a county council under the Principal Act shall be let by the council at the best price or sum that can be reasonably obtained. I have here to give an illustration of the misfortune of not having the whole of the Acts which have to be considered together before the House, because the real effect of this Section is very much in favour of those to whom the land is to be sold or to be let. The previous provision in the Act of 1908 was that the council was to let or sell the land at a price which would recoup all expenses. They only had power either to sell or to let at such prices as would show in their balance-sheet that there had been no loss. That was somewhat restrictive. This Section provides that they can let at a sum that can be reasonably obtained. One hon. Member said that you might find a certain number of men more fortunate than some of their colleagues, who might be able to pay a very much higher price and therefore secure the small holding although they might be less suitable tenants and less likely to succeed as settlers upon the land. May I once more call attention to the fact that the land is to be let at a price or sum which can reasonably be obtained? If I read that word rightly it is not merely "can be obtained," but, having regard to the circumstances—the locality of the land and the like—they may consider an offer reasonable, then they have the power to let. They need not look at the mere figure alone, without taking into account other circumstances, such as the qualifications of the proposed settler. Hence, I do not think that further examination will add to any difficulty that the House feel about this Section. It will see that the Section works in favour of the settler and frees the hands of the council rather than the reverse.
2660 The hon. Member asked me about Clause 24. Quite fairly and legitimately, he said, "You may find in an agricultural county, such as he knows well, and as I have the honour to know pretty well, that the county council have great knowledge of agriculture, the members being drawn from the agricultural population, and, on the other hand, you may find county councils in industrial centres, members of which are drawn from those who have little knowledge of agriculture, and you want to see that neither in the one case nor the other no difficulty is put in the way of the working of the Bill. As my hon. Friend pointed out, these county agricultural committees have been constituted in accordance with the system adopted under the Education Act of 1902, and the position is that the county council will appoint two-thirds of the committee and the Board of Agriculture will appoint one-third. In that way you will get what may be called an adequate representation of those persons who, in industrial centres, may have but little knowledge of agriculture, and in the cases where the county councils are composed wholly of agricultural members the Board will be able to appoint those who will be able to offer assistance on the other side of the question which naturally has to be presented to the Agricultural Committee. By this means, therefore, you will secure that the committees are so composed as to be best fitted for the purpose of carrying out the work entrusted to them. When closely scrutinised, Clause 24 does not really seem to need attack, but if, on the other hand, it is shown to be desirable it should be amended, I have no doubt my hon. Friend will be perfectly ready to consider any proposed Amendments.
Another point which came with considerable force from more than one speaker was on the question of the pooling of small holdings created under previous Acts with the small holdings created under this Bill. I think one hon. Member who brought that forward had not become perfectly apprised of the system under the 1908 Act and under this Bill, because he seemed to think that for the purposes of this proposal all county councils would be thrown together and where one had been a successful steward of small holdings any gain it had attained would be applied to small holdings under another county council which had not been as successful. But that is not so at all. The county council would remain an inde- 2661 pendent authority, and it is not intended to bring all county council allotment gains or losses together. What is the intention is that where under a particular county council there were small holdings created before this Bill and where there will be further small holdings created under this Bill, when you come to consider the operations at the end of seven years the whole of the operations will be considered as one scheme. If you do not do that you again get into the horrible tangle of having small holdings under one system and small holdings under another. On the other hand, it is not unfair to remember this, that the finance that is required for the scheme is going to be provided by the Treasury. At the end of seven years any profit will be handed over to the county council, and it will not be unfair that they should bear the burden, if it be a burden, of the allotments previously created, and in respect of which the Board at the present time pay something over £200,000. It would not be unfair under these circumstances to ask the county council to take over and deal with small holdings created previously to this Act.
§ Mr. ROYCE
My solicitude was for the smallholder who has contributed his quota to the capital cost of the allotment and paid an annual contribution. Under the Act of 1908 he pays not only the cost of administration and improvements, but the capital cost as well, and I want to know what is going to happen to the individual man who may have paid this money for ten years. Is he going to receive anything in return?
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
This is a point which perhaps we may be able to deal with in Committee. I will look into it carefully, and I think that will be more satisfactory than giving an opinion offhand. Bearing in mind the fact that the hon. Member says he is concerned with the point of view of the smallholder, I will look into it far that point. If any Amendment is necessary we will consider it. I think it is far better to deal with it in that way than to give a hasty answer. I have, I think, dealt with all the points which have been made on Clause 24, and I have also dealt with the question of pooling. There is one other point I have to deal with. It was stated by the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Seddon) that it was altogether improper to treat the controlling power as directed under Clause 9, because it was suggested the result would be to handicap 2662 the go-ahead council. But that is really not the process at all. I cannot help thinking it was the sort of imaginative picture we occasionally have drawn on the floor of this House. What is really aimed at by this control is this: You may have a council minded for some reason, I do not suggest any improper reason, to acquire land which might be unsuitable for the purposes of settlement. In the circumstances the Board retains the power to exercise some sort of control if necessary. It must have some sort of control, otherwise you might have a council composed of persons who would acquire land, it might be at a loss, without control. They are dealing with public money, and it might be that a serious loss to the community would be incurred, and the least that you can provide is that there should be this power of control, which need not be too rigid, over all these councils, to stop that kind of expenditure which might be unwise and imprudent. I do not say the man who pays the piper should call the tune, but there should be some control. I think I have dealt with the greater number of the principal points which have been raised. They are mostly matters which can be more properly attended in Committee.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
As I have already said, it would be a matter of careful consideration, and the matter will, of course, receive practical consideration in Committee. I am not putting the hon. Member off. I think it will have real and serious consideration in Committee, and I hope he will put down an Amendment with that view. That covers all the matters, and with regard to the most of them I do not think it right to delay the House to-night, because these are matters which can properly be considered in Committee. We think this Bill has received a sympathetic treatment to-night. The House as a whole has shown itself sympathetic and anxious to carry into effect some of the promises that are being made to those who have come back and who have served in the ranks, and they are also anxious to show that their claims should be recognised and met in a proper way. A number of Members in this House who have had experience of dealing with land and who have 2663 considered this problem and have brought to it great knowledge have spoken on the Bill, and I hope that without any spirit of criticism they will all bound their energies with us to make it a real and broad measures. It is an experiment, and it is intended as a tribute that we are all bound to pay to those who have so richly earned it. It may be an inadequate measure I quite agree, but we are trying to make good our promises to the survivors, for they really are the survivors, of these men and women who have done their part to the admiration of this country and of the world.
§ Mr. REMER
I rise just to make two points and to put them forward for the consideration of the Government. I do not think that the Government has given sufficient consideration to the question of the disabled men. So far as many of the men who have been disabled are concerned the provision of small holdings does not meet the case, what we require is some ort of corporation and communal work under a system which would enable these men to earn a living. The second point I wish to make as reference to the question of reafforestation I feel the importance of that matter very strongly. It is a matter of great national interest. During the War we had a really serious crisis, owing to the shortage of home-grown timber, the supply of which has failed. That particularly applied to the supply of pitwood in this country and the result was that there were competitive prices.
§ Mr. REMER
I think that the point with regard to reafforestation is closely connected with the question of land settlement, and the point has been raised during the Debate that a certain amount of the land which is not suitable for agriculture is suitable for re-afforestation purposes. I could point to many acres which are not suitable for agriculture but which would be suitable for re-afforestation schemes. I think that in this Bill some Clause ought to be brought forward to have this matter effectively dealt with. I should like to ask the Government to take it into their serious consideration.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.