§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE had given Notice to call attention to the case of two ex-Service men, tenants on the Crown Lands at. Stagsden. Bedfordshire, whose holding is advertised to be sold by auction on September 1, 1921; and to ask how many acres of the Crown Lands proposed to be sold are occupied by ex-Service men.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I have to ask the indulgence of the House while I bring forward a matter which seems a trivial thing, but is really one of considerable importance, and also one of urgency. An announcement. is published, of which I have here the particulars of sale, about the Crown estate of Stagsden, a considerable area of land extending to 3,360 acres. There are fourteen large farms, small holdings, accommodation land, cottages, allotments, anti gardens. Among these small holdings there are two which are occupied by a man and three or four of his sons, two of whom have served in the great war, one having been seriously wounded, and having lost his leg. These two small holdings are for sale and the sale is to be held at the Town Hall at Bedford on Thursday, September 1; that is to say, in a fortnight.
I have had a letter from one of the tenants of these two holdings, in which he says:
My object in writing to you is to suggest that something really ought to be done so that the ex-Service men need not be turned out of their homes and holdings through the action of the Crown, for which only a short time ago they were fighting and bleeding.
On that I have only to say that the Crown Lands are now not the property of the King or of the Crown, but are managed by a Government Department, and that
it is through no action of the Crown that tins unfortunate eviction is to take place. It is really the fault of the present Government, and the policy was, I believe, introduced by the late Minister of griculture, Lord Lee of Farehani. The man goes on to say:
The position of ex-Service men was especially drawn attention to in a Petition sent to the Commissioners of His Majesty's Woods, but this point has either been overlooked or not considered to be of any consequence, so far as the sale of the estate is concerned.
I am not aware whether that is a filet or not, but I feel certain that there must have been an omission and an unfortunate oversight on the part of the Department.
§ What it really collies to is tins. Here is an instance, and it is not one of the worst instances, I believe—I have got some particulars, but I cannot bring them forward because I cannot substantiate them—but it is not the worst instance of interfering with the holdings of men who fought for the country. It is a very serious thing, and if it is understood that. on the Crown Estates, 10,000 acres of which are to be sold, these men are going to be dispossessed, I am afraid that a. very ugly feeling will grow up, and one which would not at all redound to the credit of the Government. I most respecfully hope that His Majesty's Government may, if possible, withdraw this shall amount of land out of this large estate which was put up for sale, or, at any rate, make some sort of arrangement which will not necessitate the removal of men who, of their own accord, went, to fight for the country and the Crown.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF ANCASTER)
My Lords, I do not think you want me to enter into a long statement as to the policy of selling the Crown Lands. I. can only say, generally, that no fewer than 9,000 acres have been found on the Crown Lands for ex-Service men, and in addition to that the Government have done an enormous amount in placing ex-soldiers on the land. I cannot to-day deal with the whole matter as to whether it is a wise policy for any portion of the Crown estates to be sold. As a matter of fact, I. understand that some of these outstanding estates cost a. great deal of money and bring in very little revenue, and it is a debatable policy whether it is wise or not to hold all this land.
1067 On this particular matter. without going into full details, I may say that all that the noble Marquess has said is practically correct. It is only right to add that to a large extent this is a family matter. As I understand, these two small holdings, Lots 20 and 21, are at the present moment in the occupation of a certain Mr. Biddy and his four sons. Apparently, one son is occupier of one part, Mr. Biddy and another son are occupiers of another portion, and two other sons, who fought in the war, are in occupation of another portion. It has been the effort on. the part of the agents to the Crown Estates to do their best to partition this laud, and to try to get the family to conic to some suitable arrangement, and it is believed that. they would be willing to purchase their estate. Unfortunately, up to the present time, the family appear to have been unable to agree among themselves how far the land should be divided up, and how they should share the land among them, but after what the noble Marquess has said I should be very pleased to represent the case to the Ministry.
Of course, I have had very little time and I am not all-powerful with the Ministry. I can only give the noble Marquess my assurance that I will do my best as far as these two people are concerned to see whether the matter cannot be considered, whether the family cannot be brought together and induced to heal their differences, and whether they can he kept on as tenants or the land sold to them under the favourable terms which are always offered in cases of this description whenever it is found possible. As regards the latter part of the noble Marquess's Question, in addition to the land I have already mentioned, there is Lot 7 of 176 acres and there are Lots 3 and 51, consisting of 25 acres, which are held by ex-Service men.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
That is not quite an answer to the Question that is on the Paper. The Question is, How many acres of Crown Lands proposed to be sold are occupied by ex-Service men?
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
Referring to the Stagsden estate, I have had very little time in which to obtain the necessary information. I expect it will take a certain amount of research to get at the particulars. I thought the noble Marquess's Question referred only to this particular holding.