HL Deb 24 July 1912 vol 12 cc702-8

THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN rose to call attention to a statement attributed to Mr. Outhwaite, M.P., at Crewe on July 22 at a Liberal meeting, that Mr. Lloyd George, with the support of the Prime Minister, will embark this autumn on a great campaign which is to be continued right up to the next General Election, "to do something for the overthrow of the land monopoly"; and to ask whether there is any foundation for Mr. Outhwaite's statement; and, if so, whether it correctly represents the intentions of His Majesty's Government.

The noble Earl said: Your Lordships probably noticed in The Times a report of the speech by Mr. Outhwaite at a Liberal meeting in Crewe, where a by-election is now pending, in which he made the statement contained in my Notice. That statement is a very open and clear statement. Mr. Outhwaite used the words "Mr. Lloyd George, with the support of the Prime Minister." That is equivalent to the Government, because these two Ministers cannot be regarded as independent members of the House of Commons. According to Mr. Outhwaite there is to be "a great campaign to do something for the overthrow of the land monopoly." When I read this I could not help contrasting it with the speech which we heard on Monday from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, who I regret is not in his place to-day. On that occasion the noble Marquess was asked for some information with regard to the so-called unofficial Committee, and he said he could give none. He was asked for the names of the members of that Committee, and he said he could not give them. He then proceeded to belittle by all the language in his power the effect of that Committee and to explain to your Lordships that we must not take the matter seriously, that it was not a thing which proceeded from the Government but was entirely unofficial. In fact, the language in which he indulged would have done credit to the Delphic oracle from the point of view of mysteriousness and uncertainty. He only told us one thing—namely, that he is not a Single Taxer.

The noble Marquess then went on to very much depreciate the value of that statement by finding fault with Lord Ribblesdale for having spoken of a "new policy." He said there was no such thing as a new policy—that the Government of the day was the Government of the day, and the policy of the Government was the policy of the Government; and to speak of such a thing as a new policy was, he said, an hallucination. I could not help thinking at the moment that, according to this argument, it is perfectly easy for any Government at any time to alter their policy completely and then to say "This is not a new policy because it is the policy of the Government." Contrasting that speech with the statement by Mr. Outhwaite I should like to ask your Lordships, To which of those statements does probability more attach? I think I shall be able to show your Lordships in a very few words that all the positive evidence that we have is in favour of Mr. Outhwaite's statement that this policy is the policy of the Government and that it is going to be pursued accordingly. In the first place, we know that Mr. Lloyd George has a positive policy with regard to land, and Mr. Lloyd George, as we also know, is a very powerful member of the Government. He has made a statement to this effect once or twice. In a letter which he wrote on the occasion of a recent by-election he said— Our present land system may have served some useful purpose in the past, but it has long ceased to be anything but a burden and a blight. Then, again, speaking at Woodford, he said that the land was in the "shackles of feudalism" and so on, and that it was their duty "to free the land." Therefore there is no doubt as to what Mr. Lloyd George's policy is with regard to the land.

Now Mr. Lloyd George's policy, according to the Prime Minister, is shared by all his colleagues. On July 8 Mr. Asquith was asked whether the statements of Mr. Lloyd George at Woodford were approved of by the Government and his answer was— The views expressed by my right hon. friend in his speech at Woodford as to the necessity for land reform are shared by his colleagues. Therefore these are not merely the views of Mr. Lloyd George; they are the views of His Majesty's Government. Then in appointing this so-called unofficial Committee Mr. Lloyd George had Mr. Asquith's approval. In reply to a question Mr. Asquith said— My right hon. friend has with my approval approached certain gentlemen … with a view to securing their services on an unofficial Committee which has been formed for the purpose of investigating the question of land reform. in the same afternoon he was asked whether there was any precedent for an individual Minister of the Crown appointing a Committee to deal with a subject like this, and Mr. Asquith replied— I said the Committee was appointed with my sanction. Therefore, my Lords, it is quite clear that this cannot properly be described as an unofficial Committee. I do not see how the word "official" can possibly be withheld from it seeing the auspices under which it was appointed.

Further than that, this very extreme theory of land taxation is being pressed by Liberal candidates at the various by-elections, more especially at the by-election which is now taking place for the Crewe Division. Mr. Murphy, the Liberal candidate there, has been gradually advancing in his views with regard to land. He was a little modest and rather coy at first; then he progressed until he reached a 2d. tax on the capital value of land; and yesterday he advanced still further. He did not enter into a figure, but he said this— Take whatever figure you choose. A penny will bring in £25,000,000; 2d. will bring in £50,000,000. That would enable you to wipe off every single duty now on the necessities of life and relieve poor people of their burdens. The Prime Minister, in writing his approval of Mr. Murphy's candidature, did not refer to this extreme doctrine as going beyond his own individual opinions. What he said was this— I trust that the Progressive forces in Crewe will return you at the top of the poll to strengthen and encourage the Liberal Government in the arduous work which lies before them. It is evident, therefore, that Mr. Asquith thoroughly endorses Mr. Murphy's candidature; and if the Prime Minister is not a Single Taxer himself he is not ashamed and not unwilling to take advantage of the votes which will be obtained by Mr. Murphy, who is in favour of extreme taxation. I think I have said enough to prove to your Lordships that all the positive evidence we have is in favour of supporting the statement made at Crewe by Mr. Outhwaite.

I do not know who will reply to my Question on behalf of His Majesty's Government, but I wish—I cannot say I hope—I could be told that there is nothing in this statement by Mr. Outhwaite, that it does not in any sense represent the intentions of His Majesty's Government, and that His Majesty's Government will take no part in such a programme. But if there is something in Mr. Outhwaite's statement—and, as I have said, I am afraid it cannot be contradicted—if there is anything in it and if His Majesty's Government have a policy on this matter, why do they not tell us what that policy is? It seems to me that it is the duty of the Leader of this House, or whoever represents him, to speak out on a matter of such vital importance. I can assure your Lordships that nothing can be of such disservice to the country and to the interests of the country as for the Government to indulge in hesitation and ambiguities and to attempt to conceal—the concealment, of course, can only be for a very short time—from the country what their real policy with regard to land is.


My Lords, it seems to me that the noble Earl is alarming himself quite unnecessarily. In the statement of Mr. Outhwaite, which the noble Earl considers definite and important, I find anything but definiteness, and I cannot find much of importance in it. What in the world may the words "to do something to overthrow the land monopoly" mean or not mean? The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has been recently associating himself with most laudable efforts to enlarge the ownership of land in this country. I suppose that may well be described as "doing something to overthrow the land monopoly," and that the Ashbourne Acts in Ireland and the Land Purchase Act of the late Government also may be brought within that description. I suppose the legislation with which this Government is associated for land purchase is something in the same direction. I hope that more efforts will be made to bring the land and the owners and occupiers of land into closer contact; and in that sense I hope that a vigorous campaign will be continued up to the next General Election to do something to overthrow the land monopoly. But as to whether it will be on the lines of the noble Marquess's policy or on other lines there is nothing in this quotation which throws any light. Mr. Outhwaite spoke for himself, and had no authority to speak for the Government. I know nothing of his statement except what appears in the noble Earl's Notice on the Paper, and no more, I believe, do my colleagues. What the Government land programme will be is a question the Government will pronounce upon when they have had full opportunity to consider it. The noble Earl referred to the unofficial Committee. As my noble friend Lord Crewe said on Monday, the Committee is absolutely non-official—


It was appointed by Mr. Lloyd George with Mr. Asquith's approval.


But it is absolutely non-official, and was appointed, as the Leader of the House stated, solely for the purpose of inquiry—not to draw up a programme, but to collect information. The noble Earl is alarmed at everything. He has been alarmed at every progressive step taken during the last twenty years. The programme of the Government may be seen hereafter. It is not likely to include the Single Tax or any of the alarming things of which the noble Earl has spoken.


My Lords, such light as the noble and learned Viscount has afforded us is darkness, and I think that what he has told us will only add to the confusion of the loss subtle intelligences of average men. The Lord Chancellor is perfectly entitled, as a debating point, to shift everything connected with this matter on to Mr. Outhwaite. Except just now, when the noble Earl reminded him of certain facts, he seemed completely to ignore the very open and definite statements which have been made by powerful members of the Government. He told us that Lord Crewe had explained exactly what the Committee was to do and the work on which it was going to engage. It involved what the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition described as "extended peregrinations all over England." Then Lord Lansdowne asked two important questions. He asked whether the Committee were going to take evidence and evidence on one side only, and whether in considering their Report the Reports of Royal Commissions on this subject in recent years were to be entirely set aside. But although we had from the Leader of the House on Monday last a long speech couched in that excellent tone of taste and courtesy and consideration for people who do not agree with him which always characterises Lord Crewe's speeches, I think the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack is stretching the English language to extreme limits when he tells the House that very much was explained to us. I did not grasp the true inwardness of Lord Crewe's observation the other night as to the hallucination under which we were supposed to be suffering in describing this as a new policy. I subscribe entirely to what Lord Camperdown said about the new policy. This is not an expression which we have coined. Day after day in the Daily News we see the headline, "The New Liberal Policy." That must mean something. At all events I have not heard anything from the Government which convinces me that it means nothing. Mr. Outhwaite is only one of many people who, following the lead of a powerful Minister, have taken this line and announced the crusade on the new policy. The mystery amuses me. These are days of tourneys, and if they like to masquerade throughout the country as un-named Ivanhoes we have no objection; but we know under whom they act. I should be the first to agree that we can go too far a field into conjecture as to what land reformers may have in their minds, or what they may be in a position, which is much more important, to force the Government to do. But I am bound to say that this extraordinary blend of Delphic utterances and categorical statements does drive us into conjectures of this kind. They may be conjectures; but these two things acting together naturally give rise to alarm and suspicion, which I do not think either the speech of the noble Marquess on Monday night or the few words from the noble and learned Viscount to-night are likely to allay, in the minds of people who have some little apprehension as to what this new policy may land us all into.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has, if he will forgive me for saying so, shown himself a very ingenious but not a very convincing commentator upon a somewhat doubtful text. He fastened upon the use by Mr. Outhwaite of the words "land monopoly," and I think he suggested that I, too, desired the land monopoly to be broken down. I object very much to the use of the term "land monopoly," because I do not believe there is any such thing at the present time. The facts of which we are every day made aware by the public Press show that land is not at this moment by any means held as a monopoly. I quite agree with the noble and learned Viscount in thinking that it is a great misfortune that the land of this country should be in the hands of a comparatively small number of people, and I am quite willing to co-operate with him in any movement directed to bring- about a dispersal of the land among a larger number of owners. But that was not by any means what was suggested by Mr. Outhwaite in his speech at Crewe. What Mr. Outhwaite stated, and stated, I venture to think, quite definitely, was that a great campaign—which he described as the greatest contest between privilege and the people that had been known since the days of the Corn Laws—was to be undertaken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the approval of the Prime Minister. That was a perfectly definite, and I must say a somewhat alarming, statement. I dislike it because it seems to me to be full of that class prejudice which is always imported, so it seems to me, when these questions are discussed in Radical circles. What my noble friend has asked is, I think, a perfectly legitimate question—or I should say three perfectly legitimate questions. He asks whether this story of the great campaign is true or not. The noble and learned Viscount, apparently, is not aware whether it is true or whether it is not true. Then my noble friend asks whether this unofficial and informal Inquiry, which, remember, has been undertaken at the request of the Government and the results of which are to be made available for the information of the Government, for that has been distinctly stated—whether this Inquiry has nothing to do with the great campaign which is to take place in the autumn. We can, I think, draw our own conclusion as to that. And, thirdly, my noble friend asks whether it is the case, as it evidently is the case, that the Inquiry and the campaign are very closely indeed connected. If they are, what becomes of the statement made by the noble Marquess who leads the House when he told us that there was no question of this Inquiry leading to a new policy and that those who had any such anticipation were labouring under an hallucination? Those are three simple and straightforward questions, and I venture to say they have not been answered this evening.

House adjourned at five minutes past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.