From 11th NOVEMBER to 23rd NOVEMBER, 1926.1583
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Sanders, Sir Robert (Chairman).
Alexander, Sir William (Glasgow, Gentral)
*Blundell, Mr. (Ormskirk)
*Bourne, Captain (Oxford)
Briant, Mr. (Lambeth, North)
*Briscoe, Captain (Cambridgeshire)
Burman, Mr. (Birmingham, Duddeston)
Cadogan, Mr. (Middlesex, Finchley)
*Cautley, Sir Henry (East Grinstead)
*Christie, Mr. (Norfolk, South)
Clarry, Mr. (Newport)
*Courthope, Lieut.-Col Sir George (Rye)
*Cove, Mr. (Wellingborough)
Cowan, Sir Henry (Islington, North)
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir Henry Page (Bournemouth)
Davies, Mr. Evan (Monmouth, Ebbw Vale)
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
*Dean, Mr. (Holland-with-Boston)
Dennison, Mr. (Birmingham, Kings Norton)
Edmondson, Major (Oxford, Banbury)
Fenby, Mr. (Bradford, East)
Gault, Lieut.-Col. (Somerset, Taunton)
Glyn, Major (Berks, Abingdon)
Grant, Sir James (Derby, Southern)
Grenfell, Mr. David (Glamorgan, Gower)
Guinness, Mr. (Bury St. Edmunds)
Hall, Mr. George (Merthyr Tydvil, Aberdare)
*Hamilton, Sir Robert (Orkney and Shetland)
Hartington, Marquess of (Derby, Western)
*Henderson, Captain Robert (Henley)
Henn, Sir Sydney (Blackburn)
Holt, Captain (West Ham, Upton)
Hopkinson, Mr. (Mossley)
Hudson, Mr. James (Huddersfield)
Hurd, Mr. (Devizes)
Jones, Mr. Mardy (Glamorgan, Pontypridd)
Looker, Mr. (Essex, South-Eastern)
MacIntyre, Mr. (Edinburgh, West)
*MacLaren, Mr. (Burslem)
*McLean, Major Alan (Norfolk, South-West)
Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn (Northampton, Kettering)
*Morrison, Mr. Hugh (Salisbury)
Morrison, Mr. Robert (Tottenham, N.)
Newton, Sir Douglas (Cambridge)
Rawson, Sir Cooper (Brighton)
Rentoul, Mr. (East Suffolk, Lowestoft)
*Rhys, Mr. (Romford)
*Riley, Mr. (Dewsbury)
*Ruggles-Brise, Major (Maldon)
*Shepperson, Mr. (Leominster)
*Sinclair, Major Sir Archibald (Caithness and Sutherland)
Solicitor-General, The (Sir Thomas Inskip)
Titchfield, Major the Marquess of (Newark)
Townend, Mr. (Stockport)
Viant, Mr. (Willesden, West)
Wallhead, Mr. (Merthyr Tydvil, Merthyr)
Warner, Brigadier-General (Bedford, Mid.)
Waterhouse, Captain (Leicester, South)
Williams, Mr. C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)
Williams, Mr. Thomas (Yorks, W.R., Don Valley)
*Wilson, Mr. Cecil (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
*Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Col. (Ludlow)
*Added in respect of the Small Holdings and Allotments Bill.
Mr. COLOMB, Committee Clerks.
Mr. ABRAHAM. Committee Clerks.1584 1585 STANDING COMMITTEE C Thursday, 11th November, 1926.
[Sir ROBERT SANDERS in the Chair.]
Where a county council are satisfied that there is a demand for small holdings in their county by persons who desire to buy or lease and will themselves cultivate the holdings and are able to cultivate them properly, it shall be the duty of the county council to provide small holdings if they are of opinion that they can do so without incurring loss, and, subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, it shall be lawful for them to do so notwithstanding that it appears to them that a loss may thereby be incurred.
Mr. RILEY: I beg to move to leave out the words "buy or", This Amendment raises the old question of the policy of the State assisting in the buying of land for small holdings, particularly where State money is going to be used in creating an increased number of private land owners. I do not move it because I am opposed to the purpose of this Bill. I do not suppose any Member on this side of the Committee has any desire other than to co-operate in every way in securing an increased number of people on the land and in promoting the greater productivity of agriculture for .the benefit both of the nation as a whole and of the agricultural community in particular. So far as the Bill is seeking to do that—and I think part of it is seeking to do that—we are in hearty agreement with it, but I move this Amendment because the Clause, if passed as it now stands, taken in connection with other parts of the Bill, means inevitably that public money is to be used for the creation of an increased number 1586 of owners of land without any particular effort on the part of those new owners themselves. The Bill provides that in regard to approved schemes submitted by county councils the Ministry will be responsible for 75 per cent. of the estimated loss and the remaining 25 per cent. is to fall upon the ratepayers in the county council area. I submit we are not justified in taking public money, both from the taxpayers and the ratepayers, in order to enable individuals to become absolute owners of land. I do not wish now to discuss the merits of occupying ownership as against tenancies, but if occupying owners are to be created, surely if they have money enough to become owners they should get their occupation in the ordinary market and in the ordinary way. They should not be provided for out of public funds in the way which the Bill proposes. The Bill is not merely for the purpose of extending the area of small holdings and increasing the productivity of the land; it seeks also to create a number of private owners enjoying absolute property in land. I doubt whether any justification can be found for using the powers of the State to assist in a creation of a number of private owners of land at the public expense. Further, I suggest that these words should be left out, so that the province of the county councils in this matter may be limited to the provision of tenancies. The effect of the Amendment will be to simplify the work of the county councils and confine them to carrying forward that development in small holdings which, as experience has convinced all parties, is desirable to the country. The Amendment seeks to ensure that the work of the councils will be that of dealing with tenancies and not with the financial intricacies of having to sell to various occupiers, with all the financial complications which attach to private ownership. It is not only on that ground that I do it. I do it as a matter of principle, because I believe that the freehold of land should be the property of the nation. I do not want, this morning, to argue theories, but to take the practical aspects which the Bill, as it stands, presents to the Committee, and one of the objections to the alternative method of affording the councils power to sell to occupiers, and to occupiers power to buy from the 1587 councils, is that, undoubtedly, many small holdings of necessity must be provided at inconvenient distances in developing localities, often in the neighbourhood of growing towns. Small holdings are of little use in many cases, for some purposes, if three or four miles away from main centres or from main roads, and, therefore, inevitably the demand for the extension of small holdings will be, and has been, to get for smallholders the most convenient sites that can be obtained. That means that it is land which will have a prospective rising value. Can public money justifiably be used to create new owners of property which the growth of the locality is going to make more valuable, and to leave those owners enjoying, in the future, the increased value which the community gives? I submit that it is not public policy to be using public money to create new private owners whose property will rise in value as a consequence of the growth of the community in a locality. But, on more practical grounds, I want to submit to the Committee the unwisdom of extending methods of buying small holdings. I have inquired from the Minister on several occasions what has been the experience in the past, and the facts that I have been able to ascertain are, roughly, that, under the Act of 1892, which was in operation until 1907, a period of 15 years, only 59 smallholders purchased their holdings. I do not happen to know how many small holdings were created in that period, but, under the Act of 1908, which remained in operation until 1919, a period of 11 years, and is still partially in operation, only 67 holders purchased their holdings, but 13,000 small holdings were created. Coming to the Act of 1919, which has been in operation up to the present time, a period of about seven years, there have been created 17,000 small holdings, but only 389, up to July of this year, have been purchased by their holders, and about 100 of those are small market holdings, mostly in Worcestershire. I submit, therefore, as a reason for this Amendment, that there is no wide demand, as proved by experience, for holdings to purchase. What there is a demand for is tenancy, and that is the point. Some 30,000 holders have been set up practically since 1908 in this country, and not 500 of them have 1588 been in a position to purchase their holdings, and there are still, as the Minister knows, as far as the figures can be ascertained, 20,000 applicants waiting in England and Wales for small holdings, and something like 10,000 in Scotland. I want now to quote from the Report of the Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation, appointed by the late Mr. Bonar Law in 1922, to show that the facts of experience are against the policy of purchase and entirely in favour of the policy of tenancy. In 1922 Mr. Bonar Law appointed a Tribunal to inquire into the condition of agriculture, and in the section dealing with small holdings they make the following remarks: "The system of purchase and ownership by the county councils of the land and of the leasing of it to smallholders seems to combine largely the advantages of ownership without its disadvantages; and the gradual extension of this experiment in public ownership of the land is in itself desirable. At the same time, attention should be directed to the alternative method—of the public authority renting land by agreement or, if necessary, by arbitration, for the purpose of small holdings. If it is considered desirable to avoid the investment of public money in the purchase of land, this method might be adopted. We consider, however, that the system of public ownership is preferable". In the next paragraph they say: "In recent decades forms of tenure have been created, both in Germany and in Den mark, which give the smallholder the main advantages of ownership, while not depriving the rest of the community, represented by the State, of any possible increment of value which may arise from changing environment, apart from the occupier's own labour and capital". In other words, the Commission say that the balance of evidence is in favour of tenancies, because under tenancies the community may still resume, at any future time, the accruing value which may come to the land under the circumstances set forth.
The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Guinness): May I first apologise to the Committee for having been late? It was from no discourtesy, but from force majeure. No pleadings with the police on my part were successful in releasing me from the crowd at the back of the Home Office after the Cenotaph ceremony. The Amendment which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) has moved proposes a very great departure from the existing law as to small hold- 1589 ings. Moving it in this early part of the Bill does not limit his objection to the new terms of purchase, but extends it to the possibility of purchase under any terms. As the hon. Member told us, there has been a power to local authorities to sell small holdings going right back to the original Act passed by Mr. Chaplin in 1892, but, undoubtedly, in early days, and indeed up till the last Act that we have passed on the subject, a very marked preference has been given in the terms laid down by the State to small holdings created on a tenancy basis. To take the last Act, the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, it was a most unpromising proposal for anyone to give notice to purchase a holding, because he thereby forewent any State assistance and had to pay in effect the full market value of the land, without any writing down. We are making a deliberate change in this Bill. We do not want to hold the scales unfairly as between renting and purchase, but we say that where a man wants to purchase, he shall be able to do so on exactly the same terms and at the same cost to the State as the man who wants to rent. If our terms are not reasonable, the time will come later on in this Bill when they can be discussed, and I think really the fear of the hon. Member for Dewsbury about building land applies no more to holdings which are purchased than to holdings which are rented, because, as he knows, there is a provision protecting the land from any use for other purposes during the whole period during which the instalments are being paid off. Of course, if the hon. Member is right, and there is no demand on the part of smallholders to purchase their holdings, the proposal in this Bill will be inoperative. Personally, I do not agree with him. I think there is a desire on the part of many smallholders to become freeholders, and to feel that anything which they put into their land in the form of labour, energy and capital is going to be devoted to their advantage, and that of their family. Anyhow, this is not the place in the Bill to discuss the details of purchase, and I certainly cannot agree that we should by this Amendment upset the long existing option which local authorities have enjoyed of selling small holdings in suitable cases.1590
Mr. T. WILLIAMS: I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has failed, possibly wilfully, to deal with the observations of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) when he set out to try to prove, on the basis of a long experience, that the demand for ownership of small holdings is not pressing, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give us some real reason why he anticipates such a demand for ownership under the terms of this Bill.
Sir HENRY CAUTLEY: Because he will not have to pay a large sum down, as he has under the old Acts.
Mr. WILLIAMS: It is pretty obvious that if the facility be there, you will find now, as always, that certain people, who otherwise would be very useful tenants, and would make the utmost use of their holdings, will probably set out to become the owners of those holdings, and the energies which otherwise would be directed to the production of food, will be devoted to the individual desire to, own the land, and to make provision for the future, to the exclusion of the very thing for which this Bill is designed. It seems to me that is no argument for setting out deliberately to encourage people to become owners of their own holdings, instead of providing the land on which the people can produce the maximum quantity of food, and provide themselves with the highest standard of life they can attain. It seems to me that that side of the question has not been answered by the right hon. Gentleman, since he scarcely touched it. Why should we imagine to-day, any more than in any period during the past 25 years, that there is going to be a big demand for individual ownership? Then, again, with my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury, I believe that it is not in the national interest that we should deliberately set out to create more owners of land in this country. We have seen something of the horrors of private ownership during the past decades. Wherever one goes to-day, one can find, either on large or small farms, not all, of course, but here and there, a farm large or small which is two-thirds derelict, because the owner has lost all interest in his farm. If the hon. Gentleman opposite who has interjected can disprove this, I hope he will endeavour 1591 to do so. Then, perhaps, we can provide him with typical instances. In almost every district you will find here and there instances of farmers who have lost all interest in their holdings, who are not making the best use of them from the point of view of food production, from the point of view of employing labour and from the point of view of making the district in which their farms happen to be render their proportionate share towards the production of food for the nation. I think the principle is wholly wrong. If there be a real demand for small holdings, I think it is by people who want to produce the maximum quantity of food on a few acres of land, and it is not so much the desire to secure ownership as to have a sense of freedom, to know that their efforts are going to result in a higher standard of life for themselves, and to know there is going to be an element of security hitherto not obtained. For those reasons, while I might feel disposed to support any reasonable proposal to extend the opportunities and facilities for creating more small holdings, I council never vote for any proposal that was going deliberately to set up more private owners, take away any sort of public oversight of the means employed in the production of food, and set aside any sort of control, guidance or oversight by public representatives, because persons happen to own these holdings. For those reasons I support this Amendment.
Mr. FENBY: I am afraid it is a hopeless task endeavouring to persuade the Minister to accept the Amendment, but I think he will find his task equally hopeless in endeavouring to meet the authorities who have to work this Bill when it becomes an Act,, and equally hopeless to get them to encourage people to purchase their holdings; because if the Government are not of opinion, the local authorities are of opinion, from experience in dealing with this problem, that the man who owns his land and cultivates it, is not necessarily, and in practice very often is not by any means, the best cultivator and largest producer per acre of the land he cultivates. Although I am not supporting this Amendment for some of the reasons put forward by the hon. Member for Dews- 1592 bury (Mr. Riley)—and I am not going into the question whether it is an evil or a good thing for people in this country to own land—I do say practice proves that you are not doing any person desiring to produce food in this country a good turn by encouraging him on 5 or less acres to put his money into the purchase of land which he wants to cultivate. The experience, I think, of men who have had anything to do with the inception and working of small holdings successfully has been this. You want a man who does not put his money into the land as a matter of purchase, but who puts his small capital on the land in order to get the most out of it. When a man has security of tenure, as long as he does two things—farms his land properly, and pays his rent regularly—under a system of small holdings, I do not know what else you need. He has absolute security as long as he does those two things. There is another objection. You do not put a man on a small holding, hoping that he will remain there to the end of his days. You hope that the small holding with which you provide him will be a stepping-stone to a larger farm, because there is a large amount of land in this country which cannot be cultivated on a system of small holdings of 50 acres or so. There are large areas of agricultural land in this country which can only be cultivated successfully on a system of large farming, because where there is fallowing to be done, it is of no use to smallholders. I have always regarded the small holding as a kind of stepping-stone to a larger farm, so that when a man is successful, and has made money—for my experience is a good many do make money with small holdings, and that the small holding has been a great boon to small men—I do not want to lead him into a trap by providing anything in this Bill which will permanently fix him upon a small holding. I want him, when he has made good, to pass on, and make room for another man who wants to make good; and from the point of view of the individual smallholder, I feel that you are not doing him a good turn by putting in a provision to purchase. It may be the Minister is endeavouring to take a leaf out of somebody else's book with regard to occupying ownership, but, per- 1593 sonally, I think, if you have security of tenure, as long as you do the two things I have mentioned, you have everything you want in the small holding movement. Then there is the point of view of the authority, who, if wise, would never think of purchasing 50 acres in a parish for the purpose of a single smallholder, but would go somewhere and get suitable land up to 1,500 or 2,000 acres, take away the man from his individual parish and set him up in a small colony, where there are alternative forms of employment and a good market. This is where, I think, the Minister will find it a hopeless business, if he is desirous that authorities should encourage people to purchase. He will find that authorities will not do anything of the kind. If they get an estate, say, of 1,000 acres near a town, what is it a man is going to buy? If he wants to buy, he wants to buy the eye of the estate. Although the public authority has the financial responsibility of all the other parts of the estate, according to this provision a man is to have the opportunity of picking the eye out of the estate, and letting the public authority hold the dog. That does not seem to be fair, and, from the point of view of practice, as far as the smallholder is concerned, and from the point of view of the public authority who has to work this particular provision, I am certain the Amendment ought to be supported by the Minister. The hon. Member for Dewsbury has shown by figures that there is no real demand, and if there is a demand, I think people who know anything about the small holding movement during the last 15 years know that you are not doing a man a kindness if you do anything in any way to encourage him to put his money into the land as a purchaser, rather than encourage him to put his money on to the land, and do his utmost to produce.
Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT: The speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down is interesting, because his main contention for not desiring to see the purchase of small holdings appears to be that he believes a small holding should always be the stepping-stone to a large farm, which, I imagine, is, in his opinion, the successful way of promoting agriculture. I do not think he will find Socialist opinion will support him in that, the Socialist view being in favour of 1594 keeping small holdings of every description as small as possible, so that there-shall be no large farms, which might become too successful. I only intervene because, as one who would not be sitting in this House but for the votes of the working classes, I do protest against doing anything deliberately to prevent any smallholder from purchasing his holding. I think it is a splendid step in the right direction, and, as the Minister has said, later on we can discuss this question in other respects; but to limit it here would be a policy which, I am sure, on reflection hon. Members will think wrong. I have been brought up on the land, and bad as much to do with the farming classes in this country as most Members in this House in business connections, and I believe if you once give the opportunity to the small man to purchase his holding, there is a greater chance of the holding being successful than under any tenancy scheme. When the Commission's Report was published, we knew very much less about this matter, but to-day most of the manhood of this country has spent a considerable time in France. Many of us lived in peasants' houses, and we have seen the extraordinary incentive there is to the peasant who owns his land, and the ready way the whole of his family will co-operate in making the farm a success. When the hon. Member suggests that if a man owns a farm he is not going to try to produce the heaviest crops or other farm products, I can only say he is in conflict with human nature. The truth of the matter is that the man who owns his small holding has staked everything on it and will make a success of it if he can, because it is the work to which he has devoted his life. If he makes a success of it I imagine that he can sell it, and go on to a larger farm, as desired by the Liberal party. Good luck to him. But he should not be precluded from the opportunity of buying the holding and making a success of it, as is done all over the Continent, where people know they can hand on to their sons and their grandsons the fruits of their efforts.
Sir H. CAUTLEY: Surely the observations of the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby) are self-contradictory. I am well aware that he speaks with a good deal of authority, because the small holdings which he has managed have been successful; but when he tells us that no 1595 tenant of a small holding who is going to make it a success ought to be paying any portion of his money away on the purchase of the holding, I would ask him whether it is not a fact that in all the holdings he manages the tenants do pay a proportion of their annuity, or rent—whatever you like to call it—towards buying the holding, though they do not buy it for themselves, but for the county council? His argument seems to be based on a false premise. Why on earth should not a man be equally successful if the extra amount he is paying is going towards the purchase of the holding for his own benefit? Surely he has greater inducements to achieve success than if he were paying contributions towards buying land for the county council. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) made the point that there is no demand. Is it not pretty obvious why there is no demand? The man has already had to pay as tenant this portion of the rent, and, under the old Acts, if he purchased his holding he had to put down something like 20 per cent.—speaking from memory—in hard cash. In addition, he had to stock his holding, equip it, and pay the instalments of the purchase money, with a high rate of interest. The burden was impossible and impracticable. It was a foolish proposition for a man who was only going to occupy a small holding to buy it. This Bill will sweep away that impossibility and that impracticability, and I support it with all my heart.
Mr. MacLAREN: I do not think hon. Members opposite, including the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley), have given due weight to the argument that public money is to be used to create private owners. The hon. and learned Member says there ought not to be any grumbling about the extra amount of the instalments of what would otherwise be a rental charge, seeing that the man will ultimately become the owner; and then it is said that a man will always put more into a piece of land if it is his absolute property than he will do as a tenant, even if he has absolute security of tenure. Give him absolute security of tenure, and I will guarantee that any man with a small holding will put as much into the working of it as if he were the owner. I would like to add my emphasis to the point, which has not 1596 been met with any strong arguments, that the extra money expended on securing the holding as the holder's absolute property, might be spent better in developing the property itself under a system of security of tenure. The whole ideal, however, is to create absolute owners under the fallacious idea that when a man is the owner of the land he will put more into it than otherwise. That argument does not stand. We have been told something about France. God forbid that this country should ever be landed into the condition of France in the matter of small holdings. I have been in Denmark pretty often, and this year I find that the Danes are supporting their Government, not in promoting absolute ownership in small holdings, but in breaking up vast estates and bringing the land within the grasp of smallholders, who either pay a rental charge to the local authority or to co-operative societies which take the land over. There is there no question of creating absolute owners of land, and I would rather follow Denmark any day than follow the French system. There is another point. When we sit here complacently talking about local authorities doing this, that and the other, we must not forget the over-shadowing condition of the finances of local authorities. If business men are not apprehensive now, they will be so within a few weeks, when they see what happens, and when the rates go up; and any money raised by local authorities to get land for men and to get men on to the land would be used to better purpose by bringing the largest number of men on to the land and giving them security of tenure. As a member of a local authority I should not be enthusiastic about supporting a Bill to put men on the land if it had behind it the fallacious conception that private ownership postulates the best possible use of the land. I think we shall get the land at a cheaper rate under a system of security of tenure than by adopting the peasant proprietry system, which is costly, and involves the owner of the land m a sort of hard-and-fast line of action, with greater anxiety than he would have if he were a tenant under his local authority. Let me wind up by reminding those who are advocating the policy behind this Bill that it is public money that is being used to establish private owners on the 1597 land—75 per cent. Government money and 25 per cent. the money of the local authorities—backed by the plea that private ownership will give the highest efficiency in production. We can get the highest efficiency by security of tenure rather than by this more expensive process, which will also create trouble for ourselves in the future. When sitting as a Committee we are not supposed to be theorists or to wing ourselves into idealism, but, frankly, I am more afraid of a bundle of small land owners than half-a-dozen big ones. The big land owner has sometimes got a sense of sportsmanship about him—sometimes you are not sure whether he has or not—but when you get a bundle of smallholders, all with their eyes on a future when they are to dominate the parish, it is a hopeless outlook. By the system of tenancy you rob the man of this high ambition of becoming a future duke or landlord. The policy under this Bill will lay up great trouble by rooting into the soil these pestiferous little land owners, who will become a nuisance to a progressive community in the near future. I cannot help admiring hon. Members on the other side for one thing. In these matters we ought to be quite frank, and I say that I believe the idea of peasant-proprietorship is based upon another great idea—that the more you do to create small owners on the land the more you do to create small Tories. That is the real reason behind the whole proposal. I am not in favour of that. I come of Irish parentage, and my grandmother used to tell me that in Ireland they shot more landlords than in any country on God's earth, and that in England they put them in castles and called them gentlemen. Speaking as a member of a local authority, I would assure the Committee that it has always been a question with us of getting land at the cheapest possible rate, and I think we can secure the greatest amount of efficiency under a system of security of tenure and avoid all the troubles I have indicated.
Mr. RILEY: I would like to add one word before we pass from this Amendment, because probably the point will not be discussed again at any great length, although, as the Minister has said, it crops up repeatedly in other Amendments; and, if any excuse were 1598 required for detaining the Committee, it is to be found in the fact that this question of purchase as against tenancy is involved in the very first Clause of the Bill. All I wish to say is that I have not found any effective reply to the point put forward that experience has not shown that there is any substantial support for the policy of the purchase of small holdings. The figures on the point are overwhelming. In the White Paper which has been issued hon. Members will find that the Minister has set forth, in lucid fashion, the salient features of the Bill, and we find there that the person who wants to buy is to be put on the same level as the tenant has hitherto been. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) says the reason why purchase has not been so frequently adopted hitherto has been because the person who wanted to purchase has been required to find a certain capital sum. I think it will be found that under the 1909 Act the County Council are authorised to provide up to 90 per cent. of the money.
Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON: Four-fifths, according to Section 19.
Mr. RILEY: Then it is in the 1919 Act. I know that one of the Acts provides up to 90 per cent. of the total amount, and I submit that it is not a real difficulty for a man who wants to buy to find only 10 per cent. of the money. What is essential to the smallholder, as has been said from this side, is to have his capital fluid and to employ it not in buying the holding but in working it and increasing its productivity—if it be a fruit farm, getting more trees for it, and so on—and so increasing his potential possibilities of making a better living. The principle of letting is much more satisfactory for smallholders whose capital is very limited. We want to encourage the small man not to bury his money in property but to keep it fluid in order to use it for the working of his holding.' I think even the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) will pay some respect to views on this matter which are not the haphazard views of individuals expressed on the spur of the moment, but of experts appointed by a Conservative Government and arrived at after close investigation. I gathered from the hon. and gallant Member's remarks this morning that he 1599 considers his experience in France to be much more recent than the findings of any commissions on this subject, but I am referring to the Report of the Agricultural Tribunal which is dated 1924—six years after the end of the War. What do those Commissioners say with regard to the relative advantages of tenancy and ownership? They say: "It can hardly be urged that in this country where the law now provides for a large degree of security of tenure by means of compensation for disturbance, that ownership is clearly more advantageous, on the balance of considerations, from an agricultural standpoint than tenancy. The practical question, therefore, seems to be that of guaranteeing security of tenure so long as the occupier practises good husbandry". That is the view of the Commission appointed by the late Mr. Bonar Law. That is the kernel of small holdings policy—to guarantee reasonable security for the tenant so long as he practises good husbandry. If you have a small holdings' policy developed on the principle of tenancies, the county councils can exercise better control over husbandry than they can if you hand over the land to the smallholder and make him the absolute owner.
Sir ROBERT HAMILTON: What agriculture needs more than anything else at the present time is cheap capital. For that reason, it is of the utmost importance that we should do all we can to prevent the smallholder from immobilising his capital in the purchase of land. I cannot emphasise too strongly the remarks which have fallen from the last speaker as to the importance of the smallholder having his capital in a fluid state. On this point, I would refer to the experience of Denmark. Denmark is the pioneer country in the creation of small holdings. It has bought some of its experience rather dearly, but at the present time Denmark has come to the conclusion that it is in the interest of agriculture as a whole that the small-
|Division No. 1.]||AYES.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Burman, J. B.||Grant, Sir J. A.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. u.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Christie, J. A.||Hurd, Percy A.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Looker, Herbert William||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Croft. Brigadier-General Sir H.||MacIntyre, Ian||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||McLean, Major A.|
|Fenby, T. D.||MacLaren, Andrew||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Riley, Ben|
holder should be a tenant and not an. owner of land, provided that he has absolute security of tenure and tenant right. Then all his capital is available for production from the land. In that connection, I wish to point out what has been occurring recently in Scotland, where, owing to a combination of circumstances, many smallholders have been compelled to purchase their holdings. The result is that they now feel the impossibility of cultivating the land to the best of their opportunities, because the money which should have gone into cultivation has, gone into the purchase of the land.
It is very important that in a Bill of this sort we should treat this matter as one of principle. It is not a matter of preventing people from buying or of excluding the person who wishes to purchase. What we want to do by this Bill is to improve the productivity of the country and give the smallholder an opportunity of cultivating the soil in his small holding so that not only he but the whole country shall benefit. It has been proved to demonstration by the experience of other countries where small holdings have been tried for a much longer period than here and even by our experience in this country, that the best, results are obtained under a tenancy system. There is not much demand for ownership as experience has shown. The people who want to purchase are few, and, when we are dealing with public money, why should we use it to create small owners of land? It is more in the interest of the country as a whole that this public money should be used for creating tenancies where the tenants would have the fullest opportunity of increasing the productivity of the country.
Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 26; Noes, 5.1601
Captain BOURNE: I beg to move, after the word "loss" ("without incurring loss") to insert the words, "or adversely affecting production". This Amendment raises a very important point in the administration of small holdings. It has been put down in order to raise the question as to whether local authorities, when they take land for small holdings, are to take out what the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby) described just now as the "eyes of the farms" here and there, or whether they should not rather buy a whole estate, or large farm, and develop that as small holdings. A great deal of fear has been expressed among agriculturists that under the provisions of Clause 1, which are somewhat mandatory, a county council would be obliged, or would think itself obliged, to provide one or two small holdings in a district where they were asked for, and that by so doing they might adversely affect the agricultural production of that area. On the other hand, it is pointed out that if a council purchased a large area of land and settled the applicants on it, they would in all probability very largely increase the production of the whole district. I move the Amendment in order to get an explanation from the Minister as to what is the intention under this Bill as regards acquiring sites.
Mr. GUINNESS: I have a good deal of sympathy with the anxiety which is at the back of this Amendment. We are all anxious to see production increased, and naturally we must recognise that it is an important responsibility on the local authorities to see that the men who are put on small holdings are capable of farming the land to the best advantage. I have also a, good deal of understanding of the fear of men who are farming well at present lest their land should be taken away from them and devoted to the provision of small holdings. I do not think there is really much danger of that because under the existing law—which is continued by this Bill—the compensation payable for turning a man out under these conditions is so prohibitive that I cannot conceive of a local authority buying land under these terms or the Ministry of Agriculture sanctioning such proposals. The point mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) about taking the "eyes of the 1602 farms" is provided for under the existing law, which says that if a man is called upon to surrender a quarter of his farm so as to make the farm no longer reasonably economic to carry on, he has the right to accept the notice for a part of it as notice for the whole. That, with the other obligations as to compensation, should act as an effective deterrent against local authorities who might be so unreasonable as to wish to take the action which has been suggested. There are no rights given to the smallholder to demand land in a particular place. He cannot say that he insists on having land in one district. It is entirely within the discretion of the county council to provide small holdings anywhere within their administrative area, or, if they prefer it, by agreement with counties near by they can provide holdings somewhere outside their administrative area. The Amendment which has been moved deals strictly with a rather narrower point—the necessity for seeing that production is not adversely affected. I do not see how this proposal could be applied. There is no easy standard of comparison, even when you know what has, as a matter of fact, been done in the past. Every time we have a Debate on this subject in the House of Commons we see that there is great difference of opinion as to how our farming compares in productivity with farming in other countries. If you try to apply a standard to the future and to assess what the smallholder is going to do under unknown conditions, dependent on his own character and ability, I think you will undertake an impossibility. If a man takes over land which has been used for potatoes and goes in for live stock, how are you going to get a comparative standard to enable you to say whether or not the change adversely affects production. I think this Amendment, if it were to be operative at all, would be very restrictive in its effect on the discretion of local authorities, and I think we are much wiser to leave these matters of detail in the hands of those who are responsible to the ratepayers.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Mr. COLOMB (Clerk) read the Resolution of the House of the 3rd August, 1926, as followeth: "That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of contributions towards losses incurred by councils of counties and county boroughs in providing small holdings, and of councils of counties in providing cottage holdings, in pursuance of any Act of the present Session to amend the Small Holdings and Allotments Acts, 1908 to 1919".
Mr. GUINNESS: I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), at the end, to insert the words "and in the case of any part of the land not being required for the provision of small holdings of the best price that could reasonably be obtained therefor if sold being attributed thereto". The Committee will see that these words are different from those which appear on the Order Paper. The first Sub-section of Clause 2 provides for the basis of the estimates which are to be submitted to the Ministry. The Ministry are to be given the net annual result of providing these small holdings, but certain cases arise where, in acquiring land, local authorities sometimes buy a bit of woodland or a residence, which is not required for small holdings, and this cannot, of course, be dealt with in the estimate on an annual basis. It has to be sold off, and we want to provide that, in framing this estimate for the approval of the Ministry to a scheme, the local authority shall include an estimate of the best price which can be obtained to write off the capital value which they have to provide to start the scheme. I do not think there will be any difference of opinion as to the necessity for this Amendment.
Sir D. NEWTON: Is this the simplest verbiage which can be used?
Mr. GUINNESS: It has received a great deal of attention from the Parliamentary draftsman, and the first form of words was found not to be altogether satisfactory, because it did not make it clear that the result of this calculation had to go into the estimate. I think that if the hon. Baronet looks at the words, he will see they are perfectly simple.1605
Mr. RHYS: I should like to ask the Minister if he will consider the advisability of allowing the original owner to have the first option of re-purchasing the land that may have been taken from him compulsorily. It seems to me that, if several acres of land are required, say, five acres, and only four are used, the original owner surely has the first right to have his land back again at the price at which the County Council purchased it from him. It is, I should have thought, elementary justice that he should be allowed to have that land back, and that the County Council should not get the advantage of any enhanced price that might be fetched in the open market, especially if the land were anywhere near a road.
Mr. GUINNESS: I think the point raised by my hon. Friend is due to a misunderstanding, because this provision will not compel the local authority to take over the land at all. This is merely a matter of estimating. If they are buying by agreement, they naturally would not take this land over from the owner, but, before the stage of arbitration is reached, the Ministry have to approve of the scheme as being reasonably economic,, and they must, before they come to a decision, have a definite idea as to what the cost will be when all credits have been allowed. I do not think it will in any way prejudice the owner or prevent him keeping land not required for the scheme.
Mr. RILEY: I should like to know whether the wording of the Amendment will make it obligatory on the county council, willy nilly, to dispose of any surplus land, or whether it will be an option. With regard to the land which they have acquired, which may not be required for a small holdings scheme, but which may be useful for some other purpose,, will the Council be compelled to dispose of it?
Mr. GUINNESS: That is one of the objects of the new form of words, which leaves an option to the County Council to use the land for other purposes if they so desire, but clearly it would not be right that land acquired in connection with a small holdings scheme, and carrying perhaps a grant of 75 per cent. from the Exchequer, should be diverted to other purposes for the local authority. 1606 Therefore, the value of land must be deducted before the estimate is arrived at. It is perfectly free to the local authority, having bought the land as a whole, to apply a part to some other purpose, but without the subsidy.
Mr. FENBY: It is merely a matter of accountancy. Amendment agreed to.
Mr. GUINNESS: I beg to move, in Sub-section (5), to leave out the word "purchased" ("has been purchased"), and to insert instead thereof the word "acquired". This is a drafting Amendment, because it is necessary that this provision should cover land which is leased, and as drawn it was too narrow to cover that case.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: Leave out the word "purchased" ("of this Act, purchased"), and insert instead thereof the word "acquired"—[Mr. Guinness.]
Mr. GUINNESS: I beg to move, in Sub-section (6), after the word "of" ("bear the cost of"), to insert the word "structural".
Mr. HURD: Is this a departure from previous practice regarding structural repairs?
Mr. GUINNESS: No. It is carrying out the practice which obtains in the case of almost all local authorities. In the case of a rented holding, the outside repairs are carried out by the local authority or owner, and the internal repairs are carried out, as in almost all tenancy agreements, by the tenant; and by putting in the word "structural," we make it clear that in this respect we propose that the ordinary practice should be followed.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill".
Major RUGGLES-BRISE: I should like to ask one or two questions in connection with the meaning of the expression "full, fair rent". That expression is to obtain, I understand, both where a tenant desires to rent and also where an applicant is a prospective purchaser. If he is a prospective purchaser, then he will have to undertake to pay, not 1607 only a full, fair rent, but, according to the White Paper, he will also have to pay all the ordinary landlord's outgoings, such as repairs, tithe, land tax, insurance, and so on. Is this, therefore, the position, that an applicant who is a tenant will pay, for the sake of argument, 30s. an acre for his small holding, and that an applicant who is a prospective purchaser of the adjoining small holding, of exactly similar quality of house, farm buildings, and land, will pay on top of the 30s. all the landlord's charges? That, I think, is a point which we want to know. I know that under Clause 5 there will be a special arrangement made where, if the purchaser so desires, he can have a terminable annuity of less than 60 years, but I think that complicates the issue here, which seems to be this: The prospective tenant who pays 30s. per acre rent is going to get all his repairs and landlord's charges paid for him. The prospective purchaser paying 30s. annuity has also, on top of that, to bear landlord's charges, but, on the other hand, he is going at the end of 60 years to be owner of his farm. Therefore, in effect, what he is doing is that, instead of paying any sinking fund money, he is bearing all the landlord's charges every year. Have I put the position correctly?
Mr. GUINNESS: Yes; my hon. and gallant Friend has summed up the position with absolute accuracy. In consideration of paying no sinking fund charges, the smallholder who goes in on an ownership basis has to carry the costs of repairs and, indeed, the landlord's outgoings, but, of course, the local authority will get some compensation for not receiving sinking fund charges, in that they will be relieved of the management expenses. That is the new basis on which we propose that these ownership holdings should be created.
Major RUGGLES-BRISE: If that be so, is it not necessary really to add something to Sub-section (6) of Clause 21 If the landlord undertakes to bear the cost of repairs, will it not be necessary to make it clear that any intending pur- 1608 chaser has to bear all the landlord's charges I There is nothing in the Bill which states that.
Mr. GUINNESS: We are going to bring in a definition in Clause 6 to deal with that point.
Sir H. CAUTLEY: It seems to me that the Bill is rather weighted against the purchaser, which will rather please the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby), but I rose to point out to the Minister that it might be necessary to make this quite clear by putting in Subsection (6) some such words as: "to bear the cost of repairs ordinarily borne by he landlord in the district" At present it merely says "to bear the cost of repairs".
Mr. GUINNESS: No, we have just put in the word "structural" before the word "repairs".
Sir H. CAUTLEY: That meets my point.
Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
Mr. T. WILLIAMS: I beg to move, "That the Committee do now adjourn". Many Members made appointments prior to receiving any information that this Committee was going to meet to-day, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can complain, after having secured two Clauses almost within an hour, of the progress that has been made.
Mr. GUINNESS: I am in the hands of the Committee, and I if eel it more as I came in late myself. At the same time, I know the Committee will recognise it is urgent that we should get on with this Bill, and if we adjourn now, then I hope next week, if we do not get on fairly quickly, the Committee may consider the question of sitting in the afternoon. I do not, however, suggest that at the present stage.
Question put, and agreed to.
The Committee adjourned at One o'clock, till Tuesday, 16th November, at Eleven o'Clock.1609
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—
Sir Robert Sanders (Chairman)
Cautley, Sir Henry
Courthope, Lieut.-Colonel Sir George
Cowan, Sir Henry
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir Henry Page
Davies, Sir Thomas
Grant, Sir James
Hamilton, Sir Robert
Henderson, Captain Robert
McLean, Major Alan
Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn
Morrison, Mr. Hugh
Newton, Sir Douglas
Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Williams, Mr. Thomas