Order for the Third Reading read. (King's consent and Prince of Wales' consent signified).
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
said he did not expect hon. Members opposite to say much about this Bill, nor did he think a great deal of time was necessary to discuss the Third Reading. He did not, however, think it ought to be allowed to pass without a few remarks. The Bill had his best wishes, and he believed its object was supported in all quarters of the House. Although in his opinion it proceeded on wrong lines, he for one was ready to support any measure which held out any hope of bringing ever so few men back to the land. He did not think this measure would accomplish that, and he understood its object was more to keep those on the land who were there at the present time. In his view this expensive, elaborate, widespread, and unnecessary machinery for accomplishing the object the Government had in view would have very little effect in keeping men on the land, because there were very few of them left. If they deducted the very young men and those who were only waiting opportunities to leave the land, as well as the old people, they would find a very small number available for landcultivation, and that number was diminishing every day. He did not think there was a very good field for the operation of such a limited measure as this. Now that they had got before the House of Commons a concrete measure of this kind he hoped hon. Members would not continue to delude the average audience on public platforms with statements which had been so perpetually made to the effect that this Bill was going to give anything like security of tenure and rent. That was the sweet Mesopotamia that was invariably used in all rural meetings. They asked the agricultural labourers, " Would you not rather have a tenancy with security of tenure?" [An HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear.] He hoped the hon. Member who said "hear, hear" and other hon. Members opposite would tell their audiences frankly what the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this measure had stated, that it gave neither security of rent nor security of tenure. It was their duty to tell the people that this Bill secured for them neither of these two advantages. In fact, it passed the wit of man to give security of rent and tenure by any other principle except that of ownership. He did not think the Bill could he considered in any shape or form as a settlement of the question. He valued the Bill more because it showed that they had now a responsible Government who had been able to put in a definite shape their views as to the basis on which the question should be settled. He had never made this a Party question, and he believed that if many of the followers of the Government could have had their own way they would have had quite a different Bill from the one they were now discussing. This was not a Party question, although, it was a political question of the highest moment attaching the old meaning to the word, namely, that which affected the general welfare of the nation. The Bill raised a clear issue. On the one hand there was-opposition on the part of the Government to all forms of ownership. He could understand the opposition of his right hon. friend to the Act of 1902, because its operation was a practical refutation of everything he had advanced in favour of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman promised either in his speech upon the introduction or on the Second Reading of this Bill that the Act of 1902 should not be interfered with, but it was being interfered with in very important respects. There was a clause which, unfortunately, still remained, which, in its operation, would go far, on the Catshill Estate for instance, to extinguish the ownership when a man died and turn it into a tenancy, and that system would gradually extinguish the holdings at Catshill. There was another clause introduced in this Bill, very innocent in its appearance; he alluded to the alteration in the definition of a small holding. What would be the effect of that? Small holdings were of two sorts. There was the small holder who cultivated the ordinary farm crops, and to him a holding of less than twenty to fifty acres would be of no use. Then there was the small holder who went in for intensive cultivation, such as asparagus, celery, and a variety of other things. To him two, three, four, or five acres was quite as much as he could attend to. In his bringing up they had four acres of land, and although the family was large it was not large enough for intensive cultivation, and consequently they had to put down one or two acres in farm crops, so as to diminish the labour. What would have been the effect of that clause? In that marvellously prosperous colony at Catshill two-thirds of them had not got holdings above five or six acres. Of course, they would not be wiped out under this Bill, but it would make impossible any further extension of that scheme. During the last three or four months the Worcestershire County Council had bought another small estate and sold it to willing buyers, who were tumbling over each other to get possession of the land. If this clause had been carried that operation would not have been possible. Fortunately when the effect of that clause was pointed out even the right hon. Gentleman's own followers rebelled and the clause was defeated by a narrow majority. He was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman had been loyal to that decision. That incident showed the determined hostility to anything which imposed ownership of any kind. So far they had a clear issue, and that was why he valued this Bill. They had before them the policy of the Government, which was tenancy and tenancy alone. The opposite policy was the creation of a peasant proprietary, removing the bar of poverty and advancing the money to be repayable by instalments. The counterpart of the opposite policy was to create a yeoman proprietary in England by the aid of the State, men who should become owners of their own parcels. That was the issue before the country. He knew there would be a discussion throughout the country upon this question, and he could promise the right hon. Gentleman that that would be the case. They already possessed the machinery to accomplish this. [An HON. MEMBER: The Tariff Reform League?] No, not the Tariff" Reform League, but the Rural Labourers Association, who were carrying on their operations in all the villages, although their proceedings were not considered sufficiently important to publish in the newspapers. They had, however, a great influence upon elections. Where they had one agent now he hoped they would soon have a dozen, because they would have to take up these two land Bills and decide upon them. It rested with the rural people to decide whether they would have a Bill for the creation of a peasant proprietary, or this Bill, which declared that under no circumstance could they ever possess a single inch of the land they tilled. That was the issue. Had hon. Members opposite any doubt as to what would be the issue of that contest? [An HON. MEMBER: None whatever.] Well, perhaps the Government had some little doubt. The only explanation he could give for the policy which the Government had adopted was that the hon. Members below the gangway—and quite rightly from their point of view—the Socialist Party, had captured the Government. He agreed with the very striking words used by Lord Rosebery, in which he said—
The Prime Minister, besides being full of kindness and human nature, was an ardent politician. Whether it were at the Holborn Restaurant, or receiving deputations on any question, he was always ready with his sympathy. He was the exemplification of the American humorist who described a politician as a man who said—"I believe this to be an affair not of the landlords or of the tenants, but of the State. It is an imperial affair, and a matter of great concern to the people."
"Now then, tell me what you want;
I am ready to supply you.
With me there's neither 'won't' nor 'can't';
As for the followers of the Prime Minister,There's nothing I deny you."
In the centres of industry there were tens and hundreds of thousands who had themselves come from the land or were the sons of those who had migrated. They were the real country families. The rich men who emblazoned their arms on the carriage doors and bought some ancestors were mere mushrooms compared with the great class of peasantry which he was thankful to say still existed, although not on the land, and many of them at this moment had healthy traditions of the soil. In his early years he would have given anything to have gone back to be the owner of twenty or thirty acres of land, and there were thousands of people of the same opinion; he had proof of this from all quarters, from men working in mines and factories, and in the large towns. He thought they ought to be thankful that this was so, for the sake of the stability of the nation. They had not under their present land system succeeded in stamping out the peasant proprietor, and whenever he was stamped out it would mean the decay of the nation. He had made a calculation that if they took the land of England and Wales, and deducted the permanent grass land and that which was unsuitable for the plough, there remained at least 10,000,000 acres of what was described in the official returns as grass land. The bulk of it had never been seeded down. He was over a district some years ago in Wiltshire where the produce of the land was not worth a shilling an acre, and it was dear at the price. It was nearly all couch grass and other rubbish. That was a great national loss. There were 10,000,000 acres at least available, and there were any number of men who could be employed in the cultivation of the land. What was wanted was a scheme by which the men and the land could be brought together, but this Bill did not furnish the means. There was room for 1,000,000 inhabitants on the available land. The labour provided would not be like that which was wanted by the men who hustled each other for jobs at the dock gates like fowls in a farmyard trying to get a share of the same worm. If the men were enabled to work on the land, they could supply some of the smaller articles of food which we imported from foreign countries. Catshill supplied £50,000 worth of such articles every year, and if there were a hundred of such places, we should be able to supply much of what we now obtained from abroad. The result would be that the community would have increased labour in every direction. He laid down as an axiom that money was not the wealth of the country; it was the producing power of the country which gave it safety in time of stress. Here we had a market at our doors and we did not avail ourselves of it. What would be said of a manufacturer who had abundance of orders for goods and materials on the ground, while men were looking in at the gates for work, if, through some foolish refusal to adapt his machinery to the requirements, he allowed the orders to be sent to foreign countries? That was the position we were in with regard to the reform of our land system. This Bill did not touch the fringe of the reform. Small ownerships would fulfil every condition. The policy which he advocated was justified by the practical experience of other nations, and by the experience of this country wherever it had been tried. This Bill was absolutely parochial in its character. It dealt only with the idea of benefiting the labourer. The benefit of the labourer was a valuable incident in any scheme, but it was only an incident. The object was a national one. Land reform should be for the benefit of the whole country. Any Bill which was to be effective should have regard to the health and stability of the whole country. This Bill did not. The evidence given before the Committee on Physical Deterioration was interesting in this connection. A leading professor of midwifery stated that 85 per cent of children were born physically healthy, whatever the conditions of the parents might have been. Dr. Cunningham, professor of anatomy in Edinburgh, stated that to restore the class in which inferiority existed to the mean standard of the national physique all that was required was to improve the conditions of living, and in one or two generations the ground that had been lost would be recovered. The witness went on to say that he did not think it would be possible even under the very best forms of town life to produce conditions the poor could live under which would equal those of the country. Shortly afterwards a meeting of the Physical Regeneration Society was held, and the president stated that among the very first causes of degeneration might be placed the gradual withdrawal of the peasantry from the country and their aggregation it; the towns. It was comforting to think that physical deterioration was not permanent. If the people were got back on the land they would recover the sturdy health and physical power which belonged to the peasant race in the olden times. What was required for restoring the physical conditions of the race would not be provided by such a Bill as this. The measure only scratched the surface of the question. There were now before the country two policies. The question was whether our land system should be based on ownership, tenancies being incidental; or whether it should be based on tenancy, overlordship being a mere incident, if it existed at all. That would be the paramount question in every rural election. It was a question which the people concerned would have to settle. He had held for twenty-five years that the principle of ownership was that on which this question should be settled. He had never lost faith in it, and with regard to the ultimate sucess of it he was more confident now than ever."A merciful providence fashioned them hollow That they might the better their principles swallow."
said the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division had stated that one great blot on the Bill was that it went on the principle of refusing ownership. It did nothing of the kind; it gave an opportunity both for ownership and hiring, and very rightly so. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly well aware that, for one man who was desirous of buying land there were dozens who desired only to rent it. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill did not provide for ownership was one that required to be re pudiated at the first possible moment. The Government were anxious to promote ownership, and by this Bill they gave facilities which were not given by the Act of 1832. The right hon. Gentleman's one idea was ownership, but this was not a one-idea Bill. The object of the measure was to give facilities to working men for acquiring land by purchase or by hiring. All his life had been passed on the land, and he knew perfectly well that the agricultural labourer, as a rule, was not capable of paying for land as well as stocking. Men who hired twenty or fifty acres had the advantage of the help of their families, which help would not be of any use on an acre or two which they might have purchased. The right hon. Gentleman talked as if the land which had been reacquired by the local authority could not be re-sold. As a matter of fact it could be resold if the county council found that it was not being put to the purpose for which it was acquired. There was no occasion for saying that the Bill would prevent such land being used for its original purpose. The right hon. Gentleman hoped that both political Parties would not make political capital out of this land question, and that there would be an honest attempt only to work the Bill in the interests of the agricultural labourers. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, but if that was his attitude he would ask him what he thought of some of his political friends and associates, like the Duke of Rutland, who I were going up and down the country saying that this was a "faked" Bill intended only to serve the interests I of one political party in the country? If that kind of language was to be used by the leaders of the Conservative Party, what would happen would be to create a political agitation in the country. It was not necessary to go into the details of the Bill at any length. The measure had passed through the Committee and Report stages substantially unamended. The object of the Bill was I the same as that of 1892, but there was a great difference between the two as regarded the machinery. The Act of 1892 as an operative Act was practically a dead letter—due to the inefficiency and insufficiency of its machinery. The great advance on the present Bill was compulsory hiring, which was absent from the Act of 1892. Then in the Act of 1892 the whole machinery for putting the Bill in operation was left to the county council, and they knew with what result. The present Bill in its very first clause made the most important provision of setting up Small Holdings Commissioners. What was the duty of those Commissioners? A good deal of wild talk against the Bill was that it created Commissioners who were to be sent on a roving commission to manufacture a demand for small holdings all over the country; and that they would bully and coerce the county councils. He thought it had been made pretty clear that these Commissioners would do nothing of the sort. They would be the servants of the Board of Agriculture and of Parliament. It would be their duty to go throughout the country to make reports to the Board of Agriculture and act as intermediaries between those who desired small holdings and allotments either by purchase or hiring and the county councils or other local authorities. They had been told that the Board of Agriculture through the Small Holdings Commissioners would coerce the county councils. He did not believe that any coercion would be required. Undoubtedly, if necessary, the Board of Agriculture would put in force the provisions under the Act, but the Agricultural Commissioners would have nothing to do with that. It was argued that the county councils ought not to be coerced even if they refused to act, on the ground that they were elected on a wider basis than Members of this House. But hon. Gentlemen who made that statement and who expressed so much righteous indignation about coercing popularly elected bodies forgot that though the basis of the election of county councils was wider, their constitution was not so representative, because one-fourth of their number were not popularly elected but were co-opted members, often rejected candidates at the previous election. It was an ordinary occurrence in some counties for the candidates who were rejected by the votes of electors to be co-opted as aldermen. He knew of cases where the majority of the elected members were outvoted by the minority of the elected members, with the assistance of the aldermanic members. Therefore it was necessary that there should be a power above the county councils if the Bill was to be made really operative, and to ensure the will of the electors prevailing. It might be that the opposition to the Bill would mainly come from the aldermanic members of the county councils. There were in his opinion few men who would not say that the Board of Agriculture ought to have the power to enforce schemes which had been rejected by the aldermanic vote. The main features of the Bill were compulsory purchase and hiring. The County Councils Association accepted these provisions, as they conceded that it might be necessary in certain cases both to have compulsory powers of purchase and hiring. The principal objection of the county councils undoubtedly was that there might be a loss to the rates. The hesitation of the county councils to put the Act into force would arise from the fear of the cost. They had had little experience in the working of the Act of 1892. With the dread of possible loss to the rates he entirely sympathised. He was quite aware that in these days there was a great dislike to the increase in local rates. That increase, however, had been owing to the action of the late Government in connection with education, and therefore there was a great fear of any further increase of local taxation. The County Councils Association had passed a resolution that in case of loss, not less than one-half of it should be borne by the Treasury. A deputation of that body waited upon the First Commissioner of Works and laid the proposition before him. The right hon. Gentleman met them very fairly and in a liberal spirit, and told them that though he could not go to the extent they desired, he was quite prepared to meet them half way. The Treasury had agreed that in cases whore a county council produced proof that they had done all in their power to prevent loss they would be prepared to share the loss with the county council not exceeding half the amount. That was accepted by the deputation as a fair compromise, as he himself thought it was, and would render the working of the Bill more easy and make the county councils more inclined to assist the Board of Agriculture, not, however, in making experiments for the experimental stage had been passed. He did not believe that there would be any loss in any county as a whole, or that either the Board of Agriculture or the county council" would venture on any wild-cat schemes, as some people had been led to believe. Such persons talked as if county councils were not composed of practical men for all these reasons he believed that the county councils would put the Act in force. Another question which had agitated the members of some agricultural societies throughout the country was that this was a revolutionary measure and that every farmer was going to have his best land taken away from him or have it cut up entirely. It was asserted that there was to be a general attack on the tenant farmers of this country. It was said that there was going to be a great revolution, and that practically every farmer would have his farm taken from him, and that all large farms would be cut up. No wilder statement could possibly be made. The Board and the county council would adopt the same procedure as had been adopted in respect to Crown lands. There was no case under that procedure in which a man who was doing his land well, residing on it, and who was a good farmer had been disturbed in his holding at all. In every part of the country there was plenty of land to be had by sale, or termination of tenancies, out of which small holdings could be made. He was convinced, in his own mind, that there would be no hardship inflicted at ail under the Board of Agriculture, acting on the advice of the Commissioners, in regard to the land. There was plenty of land to be bought or hired in this country at a low price, and this land could be acquired by the county Council. When he was talking about the purchase of land acquired by county councils, he was reminded that hon. Gentlemen had denounced the proposals of this Bill because the land might be compulsorily purchased. He believed, however, that very little land would have to be purchased compulsorily; there were many thousands of acres of land unoccupied which would be suitable for this purpose for which the county council would be willingly accepted as a most desirable purchaser. He, therefore, did not think this compulsory clause would be used to any great extent, although the power would, he hoped, be used fearlessly, if necessary. It was said that if they purchased land compulsorily, it ought to be accompanied by the power to sell the land. The answer was that it was not right or fair for the State to acquire one man's property compulsorily and deprive him of it for public purposes and then to vest the private ownership of it in another man. Further, they would be continually having recourse to the powers of compulsory purchase if they resold the land acquired by compulsion, else they would have less to let. Such a proposal would increase the amount of land which would have to be acquired compulsorily. He believed that this Bill would do much to stop rural depopulation, and might even bring people back to the land. It would provide a ladder for the industrious man to climb from a small farm to a large farm. Everyone who knew agricultural districts was aware of instances in which agricultural labourers had, by their own industry, energy, and knowledge of the cultivation of the land, succeeded in becoming small holders, then small farmers, and then even large farmers. These men generally preferred to be occupiers of the land they tilled rather than to become owners of it. There were also cases in which yeomen farmers, whose farms of eighty or ninety acres had been held by their families for generations, had preferred to let their own farms in order to take larger farms where there was fuller scope for their energy and capital. Personally he believed that the provision as to hiring was one of the most important and satisfactory in the Bill, though here again he did not believe the compulsion would be necessary as a rule. He wished to say how cordially he agreed when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley said that he hoped that this Bill would be a blessing to the small holders and tend to improvement in the cultivation of the land, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Gentlemen opposite would co-operate with the Board of Agriculture in making this Bill a great success.
said he had listened to the remarks which had just fallen from the hon. Gentleman, and he noticed that he took credit for the Bill having passed through the House of Commons without any alterations.
said that his words were that the measure had passed substantially without alteration.
observed that he quite accepted what the hon. Gentleman said that it had passed without substantial alteration through that House, and the reason that it did pass in this way was owing to the forbearance and good temper of hon. Gentlemen behind him; but the measure was now approaching its completion in that House, and he did not think that the most violent partisan in its favour would maintain that the discussion on this subject had been of that free and unfettered character which alone could produce a just and workable Bill, or one worthy of entry into the Statute Book. Each Minister, from the Prime Minister downwards, in turn inveighed against the closure, but successively vied with his predecessor in making the closure more oppressive and more a weapon of tyranny—with the majority on that side of the House an easy but by no means a creditable task. He had listened very carefully to the limited debate on this subject, although not having been a member of the Committee upstairs he could not perhaps claim to have heard all the arguments put forward for and against the measure, but he had heard enough to justify the opinion that this was a measure brought in for the purpose of experimenting with the land by the Government at the expense of the ratepayer and the landowner to the obvious detriment of the latter. What was the avowed object of the Bill? The object as enunciated by the noble Lord the President of the Board of Agriculture was "to help the working man, and to make a peaceful revolution in the agricultural life of the country." As regarded the first object he ventured to think that the scheme of his noble friend would militate in an entirely opposite direction, and as regarded his second object he believed he would obtain his heart's desire to the fullest extent, so far as the revolution was concerned, though perhaps not in the peaceful manner which he so ingenuously suggested. The whole system was an artificial one, and consequently, like all artificial schemes, would enjoy a short youth of doubtful success and a middle age of dismal failure, because he was convinced that it would never reach anything approaching old age. The hon. Gentleman had referred to one noble Duke, the Duke of Rutland. Might he be permitted to refer to another noble Duke, and he need only refer to the speech made by the Duke of Portland at the Agricultural Show which he held annually for the benefit of his tenants, and which was very much appreciated by all those tenants on his estate at Welbeck? In that speech he explained how he was desirous of establishing as an experiment a system of small holdings on the most prosperous part of his estate. He had not the time to go into the details of those very laudable efforts which he made, but the net result had boon that the scheme signally failed, because it was an impossibility to make an economic success of those various small holdings, and now the land in a depreciated condition was once more in his own hands. The right hon. Gentleman said in his speech that the Government were not hostile to a system based on the principle of purchase, and he quite agreed that the Government were not actually hostile, but thought that they had done nothing further in this measure to facilitate purchase or to in any way extend the Act of 1892. He believed small holdings in some parts of the country might be a success—small holdings on the basis of ownership—but a scheme of small holdings stimulated by the artificial process of ginger as prescribed by the Under-Secretary to the Colonies was to his mind fraught with the gravest possible danger to all concerned That a scheme of small holdings whereby a landlord could borrow money at a very low rate of interest to enable him to equip small holdings, not for the unsuccessful townsman returning to the land, but for the labourers on his own estate deriving already a livelihood from their labour on that estate, that such a scheme would be successful he ventured to put forward as his honest conviction, and the indirect benefit which would accrue to the neighbourhood would justify the advance by the Government of money at a very low rate of interest. He would liked to have seen some scheme of this description brought in by the Government instead of this revolutionary measure, of which the chief characteristics were shortsighted folly coupled with gross injustice. They might well ask why the right hon. Gentleman received in that House a large amount of support. The answer was simple, because he was regarded by some as an expert in agriculture, because they had as yet no opportunity of knowing to the contrary. He said as yet, because he did not think this awakening could be far distant; and others, amongst whom were some of the hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, who looked on this scheme as a stepping - stone towards one of the foremost objects in the Socialistic propaganda, the nationalisation of the land. Purchasing land compulsorily was one matter—and there was a certain amount to be said for it when the real public benefit was the object in view; but to extinguish all interest which an owner might have in his property by acquiring his land under a system of compulsory hiring was a method which should not commend itself to anyone, when it was realised that after all an owner of land was an individual who was entitled to as much justice as the investor of money in a public company. It was obvious that the uncertainty which must follow in the wake of this measure if it ever should become law was bound to be the forerunner of depression, and to serve as a check to those landlords—and he was glad to think there were a great many who spent what they derived from their estates and more besides for the benefit of those connected with their estates, and he did not think that their experience of agricultural depression could justify the introduction of this further element of uncertainty. He should not like to convey the impression that in his opinion all county councils would deal unfairly with the landlord. Judging by the Government, he had no doubt some would, but there were others who he was convinced would do their utmost to extend justice to all concerned; but behind the county council there was the Commissioner, who had to justify his existence, and to justify his existence he was expected to create a demand when no demand might exist, and consequently 10 create discontent where peace and quiet prevailed, and this was summed up in the expressive, he admitted, but hardly statesmanlike sentence, "gingering" the local authority. The three individuals who seemed to suffer most for the benefit of agriculturally-inclined townsmen were the landlord, the sitting tenant, and the ratepayer. The property of the landlord would be compulsorily acquired on the hire system at a price to be fixed by a third party. At the termination of the hiring his property might be returned to him, perhaps considerably depreciated in value, probably with a number of so-called improvements carried out without his consent and perhaps contrary to his wishes. This unfortunate man would be called upon to pay compensation to the local authority for all these so-called improvements, a large sum of money in all probability which he could ill-afford to spend. Let them take the sitting tenant, the owner of a large farm. The best part of his farm might be picked out as a small holding, and he would be expected to make a livelihood on a part of the remainder which might only have been worked at a bare profit or only at a small loss, by reason of its incorporation with the part now taken for a small holding. Now last, but not least, comes the ratepayer, who will be called upon to provide for the small holdings under the name of allotments as laid down in Clause 21, and thereby incurring a rate up to 6d. instead of the 1d. for small holdings proper. There were certain portions of this measure with which he was in agreement, and it was for this reason that he did not propose to vote against the Bill, but he must admit that he looked forward with feelings of grave misapprehension with regard to the successful working of this measure if eventually passed into law as it was at the present moment.
said the tone of the noble Lord's speech was so extraordinarily different from the tone of the speeches of the members of his Party in Committee that he wondered what had occurred to bring about the change. Was it a rehearsal of what was going to take place when this measure passed to another place, and an indication that the course of treatment which this-Bill was going to receive would be similar to that which other Bills had received during this week? Let him say one word concerning the progress of the Bill up to its present stage. Up to last Monday he was prepared to explain to anybody who cared to listen what the success of the Grand Committee system in regard to this Bill had been. In Grand Committee there was full and fair discussion; there was not five minutes obstruction, and not one application of the closure; and the way in which the Member for Wimbledon led the Opposition was an example which younger Members of the House were not likely to forget. He spoke as one who had more Amendments rejected than any other member of the Committee, and who often felt a little discouraged by the fact that what he thought were improvements were not received. Still up to Monday he thought he was able to vindicate this system of legislation, but after Monday he had felt more doubtful. The Report stage had been mere desolation, first, because of the very sharp time limitation; and, secondly, because through Mr. Speaker's ruling, large sections of the most important parts of the Bill, including all those which dealt with the finance of the measure, were ruled out of discussion. For that reason he welcomed the declaration of the Prime Minister that he had recognised the flaw in their present system of procedure, and that he would give a favourable consideration to that which they desired to protest against. The only other remark he desire I to make on the progress of the Bill was to express in terms his sincere gratitude and congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, on the way in which he had conducted it through the House. He had conducted its progress under extraordinary difficulty, having been opposed often by both sides, and he had sometimes found it more difficult to tolerate the opposition of his own Party than that of the legitimate opposition. But he had succeeded in carrying his Bill without any kind of alteration, or at any rate, with alterations of a minor character. He had shown his open-mindedness by treating with equal contempt the Amendments of both sides of the Committee. He thought that in future greater allowance might be made for Members to vote in accordance with their consciences. Only once, and that on a minor matter, were they free to vote as they chose, and on that occasion the Committee had lost sight of what was the point at issue. But there was one real consolation, when he remembered how their prayers and pleadings beat themselves in vain against the iron inflexibility of the determination of the right hon. Gentleman. The Bill was now passing to another place, and if the speech to which they had just listened was an indication of the treatment it was likely to receive there he hoped they might look for something of that iron inflexibility which his right hon. friend had opposed to some of their Amendments in the Committee upstairs. An orgie of destruction was now proceeding in another place, which was engaged in mutilating or massacring most of the measures which had been passed this session, and he would be a bold man who would declare that this Bill would not share the fate of its predecessors. He spoke for others as well as himself when he said they must regard this measure as the irreducible minimum. They would not accept some of those Amendments which had been adumbrated in rather airy fashion by the noble Lord opposite. They would not accept the whittling down of the Commissioners into mere inspectors, nor the substitution of purchase for tenancy, nor the abandonment of what was called the default clauses, nor the introduction of the full Lands Clauses Acts, nor the abolition of compulsory hiring, which they regarded as one of the main and vital and most beneficial provisions of the Bill, He could assure his right hon. friend that, if the time came when there was to be a struggle about any or all of these measures, they were not only prepared to sit with him till Christmas in order that they should be carried, but that they would prefer the measure lost and the controversy carried into the country rather than that it should be emasculated—and they were not in the least degree frightened about the result. If that controversy arose he thought his right hon. friend would find that the more independent and guerilla forces which had been largely fighting against him upstairs, not for the purpose, as some seemed to think, of wrecking the Bill, but in the hope of strengthening it, would be not less valuable and devoted than the docile, well-trained members of his regular army. He had only a few words to say as to the Bill as a whole, because the main lines of the controversy had been followed. There were two things especially in the number of disagreements which he much deplored that the Government either did not first embody in the Bill or could not see their way afterwards to accept. The first of these was the giving of the machinery of the Bill into the hands of the rural county councils. He deplored this, because he thought they had struck a rather severe blow at a similar measure dealing with small holdings in Scotland. Although much could be said with regard to this machinery, he realised that it was an exceedingly difficult argument to answer when it was advanced against the Scottish Bill, which contained many provisions superior to those of this measure. In the Scottish Bill they refused to trust the county councils, in this Bill they threw all the working of the Bill on the local authorities. He thought they would have done better, in spite of every kind of argument that could be advanced against what was called a large organised bureaucracy, to place the administration of the Bill directly in the hands of the central authority, the Board of Agriculture, with the power of organising committees in various parts of the country on which, no doubt, the county councils and the parish councils would be represented. What he felt was that all through it was a contest between those who were prepared to pin their faith to the words and phrases of those who voiced the rule of the present forces, and those who voiced the phrases, or the fragments of those cant phrases, which had been hurled against the Government ever since the present Parliament came into being. The county councils were an embodiment of the benevolent feudalism of rural England, and it was to those that they were going to turn and insist that they should undertake work which must of necessity be directly antagonistic to the spirit of benevolent feudalism of which they were the embodiment. They were not going to give them any discretion, but were going to say, "You shall have every choice of doing this or not, but if you do not do it we shall." For good or bad the Bill had gone through in that condition. The second of the deficiencies was fatal to the whole construction of the Bill, and would wreck the whole measure. It was that they had in the Bill made no serious attempt at what was called colonisation, no serious attempt to carry out what his right hon. friend the Member for Bordesley had spoken of as the bringing back of the people from the town to the land. There was unlimited nonsense talked about this particular reform. The ordinary talk about it filled the average agricultural expert with a kind of exasperation. They could not turn the dockers, the unemployed, gathered at random out of the streets, on to the land, and set them growing potatoes or milking cows as some people seemed to imagine. But there was the regular method of proceeding by home colonisation, which was being tried at the present time by almost every civilised nation of the world, and by which an attempt was being made, often under circumstances of great difficulty, first to give opportunities for training men in just those particular methods of agriculture which this Bill endeavoured to encourage, and then to set them up as independent small holders on the land. That was what some of them had been working at for years, and they had greatly hoped that under this Bill there would be an opportunity, through the direct action of the Board of Agriculture, in cases where land colonies had been established under Unemployed Acts, for the establishment, if possible, of co-operative colonies of small holders quite independent of the prejudices and the resistance of the ordinary rural mind, and quite indeponent, therefore, of any charge upon the rates. They thanked his right hon. friend, of all the elements in this Bill, most particularly for the establishment of his central authority. That was what they had been asking for for years and years, and he would venture to urge on his right hon. friend the very great im- portance of the strengthening of the central authority, and especially of the character and personnel of the Commissioners whom he was going to appoint. Let them be men of superior status to the ordinary inspectors of the Board of Agriculture, men who were prepared to break down the almost insuperable barriers against the establishment of small holdings in Great Britain. The right hon. Gentleman had given them a great boon. Not only did the machinery give an opportunity of extending the small holdings, and an opportunity to those who would like to have an opportunity to go upon the land, but the right hon. Gentleman had given further opportunity for the development, by consolidation of this machinery, of the small holders when once they were established on the land. He had given the House every encouragement that they would be largely developed by means of credit banks and co-operative societies. If he might venture to make a rival claim against the claim of Lord Rosebery, he would like to say that as Ireland had no need of Sir Horace Plunkett it would be far better to send him to the peaceful regions of England than to send him to the turbulent shores and regions where the Scottish Land Bill was to come into operation. He endorsed the hope which had been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley and responded to by the hon. Gentleman who had spoken for the Government, that it might be possible when this Bill became law, and the difficulties and wrangles and causes of division were altogether over, to work together for what was, when they considered it, of all social reforms the most fundamental and necessary that could come before the country. The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech last Wednesday, explained the superiority of English agriculture over almost any agriculture in the world, and stated—which had almost been the sacred text of Members of the other House—that this rural depopulation was not an English problem but an international problem, concerning which it was difficult to see how they could provide any remedy. That was an enormous exaggeration of the actual facts of the case, if he might with respect say so. It was perfectly true that every nation in Europe, and he would suppose in the civilised world, had found and still found more or less a persistent migration of the population from the country to the towns. With the solitary and melancholy exception of Ireland, there was not a single nation in the world which could show anything comparable to the statistics of rural depopulation which were shown by our own country. During the same period, in France, one-thirty-fifth of the peasant proprietors had vanished, the decrease having been from 3,500,000 to 3,360,000, and one-third of the English agricultural labourers had left this country, a great number of them never to return.
said the hon. Baronet ascribed this to protection, but there was a difference, in the scientific view, between the success and flourishing condition of free trade Holland and free trade Denmark and the steady increase of the agricultural population in those countries, as compared with the decrease in those protectionist countries such as the eastern districts of Germany, which happened to be afflicted with the same vicious land system as our own; and if the hon. Gentleman considered those facts he might have cause to revise his opinion. What did it mean, not in the bald terms of statistics, but in the terms of human life? He had revisited the village where he was born, and he had looked round for those he had known in his boyhood, only to find that most of them had gone to the Colonies, to America, or to London. Those who remained in the village were discontented and degenerated, and lacked all that energy and enterprise of which as boys they had given promise. Although they had not the courage, energy, and ambition to leave the village, yet they realised that there was no superior career for them there, from the cradle to the grave. Some would say that it was well that men should go to where they could get better wages and freer markets. But the old village life had some elements of tenacity and strength which they wanted even in new towns with all their enormous economic advantages. He agreed with his right hon. friend the Member for Bordesley that there might come a day when they would need those particular elements which they had thrown away, which had been fostered and encouraged in rural England, and which when they asked for them they would ask for in vain. He had been working in a humble, fashion, by speech and with pen through long years, though there was apparently absolute indifference in the country, to arouse the people to some sense of what the meaning of this rural depopulation was; and he knew that those who thought with him on the subject would accept this measure as being perhaps the-largest possible measure which could be obtained for the present to deal with this particular evil. If his right hon. friend thought he had given them a more satisfactory and more efficient means of working than could have been produced if their criticisms of the Bill had been pissed into law, no one would feel greater pleasure than he and those who sat with him on those benches. He thanked the Government for having made this particular reform the main measure in the second session of the present Parliament, and for the courage and determination with which they had carried it through the House, and with which he had no doubt it would be carried into the other House.
said he always listened to the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, when he dealt with the practical and theoretical aspects of this question, with peculiar interest; not because he agreed with him, certainly not wholly, but because he had evidently studied the subject with deep and affectionate interest; and he did not come to the House merely to echo or re-echo some Party cry or Party shibboleth; he addressed them in order to give effect to life-long and slowly: matured convictions. The Member who did that, in his opinion, was always agreeable to listen to. If the hon. Member would forgive him for saying so, the earlier part of his speech was not in his-best vein; he did not shine so much in attacking the House of Lords as when he dealt with the social and argumentative aspect of the question. He (Mr. Balfour) did not propose to repeat any of the speeches which he had made on this subject; he would indeed occupy the time of the House but for a very few moments. When he listened to a speech like that delivered by the hon. Gentleman he thought it might be worth while to give to the House some reflections which it suggested to his mind. To begin with, the hon. Gentleman put down the evils of the present agricultural situation in England to what he called the vicious land system; yet if he reflected on what he said he would see that it was not an adequate explanation, because he told them that the old village life in England was full of the most admirable social elements, that it contained a strength to the nation and to the community which we could ill spare, and he mourned the decay of that village life which he said was going on in many of the southern counties of this country. But that old village life, with all its merits, was brought into existence when there really were some important legal distinctions between the land tenure of this country and the land tenure of other nations. Those distinctions had now practically vanished; there was no difficulty so far as the law was concerned in dividing properties as much as they pleased and establishing as many small occupiers as could be brought into existence. If there was any difficulty in the way it did not arise from the land laws. There might have been difficulties in connection with the old land laws, but it was under the old land laws that the village life which the hon. Gentleman regretted came into existence and flourished. Therefore, it was thoroughly unscientific to say that the evils they were now dealing with were evils due to the ancient and historical laud system of this country. They were clearly, on the very face of it, due to other causes. There was another point: what did the hon. Member and the House try to do when they sought to remodel in parts the existing distribution of holdings? There were two answers to that question, and he very much wished to know which was the answer the hon. Member would give. They might say, in the first place, that if they could establish a system of small owners and small holders, where they did not now exist, it would flourish of itself, would be self - supporting, would be thoroughly effective as a means of cultivating the land, and would substitute a more living and effective land system than the present. If that was the view of the hon. Gentleman, if the new system he wanted to establish was the only system, then, once they adopted it, the object in future was merely to tide over those difficulties and eliminate that friction which attended the existing system, during the period of transition from the existing system to the new, more natural, and more healthy system. Let them remember that no landlord had, or could have any interest in dividing his land into holdings which were not suitable, in his view, for the development of his property, except this one interest, that under the agricultural conditions farms were divided into large areas, and buildings were erected suitable to the large areas but unsuitable to smaller areas, and the cost of transition, therefore, was practically prohibitive. If that was the view of those who supported this kind of measure, what they were doing was to provide money for getting over that transition difficulty in moving from the less natural to a more natural state, from a less profitable to a more profitable condition for everybody concerned. He was not quite sure that that was the view of the Government. There was another view Might not that be their view? That was that whatever might be the merits of the-larger cultivation from the purely agricultural point of view, the smaller division of land had collateral social advantages; which made it worth while to pursue an uneconomic course with regard to the arrangement of the land system. That was quite different. He was not quite sure whether that was the view of the hon. Gentleman oposite or of any of those who had thought deeply over this question.
said he could not speak for the Government, but he did not think anyone on that side of the House-would dream of suggesting that they desired an uneconomic system for its collateral advantages. With certain exceptions they believed that this would make a more economic system than the old one when the transition period had been got over.
said he hoped that would be the fact. But he was sure-that a great many Gentlemen thought they were introducing a system which was not the best economic system, but which was desirable for social reasons. If that was what they were going to do, they might gain those collateral advantages but there would be a perpetual struggle to keep the system in existence. It would constantly require artificial fostering, and that fostering could not be carried out without considerable cost to the State, and without, he feared, some demoralisation to the classes immediately concerned. Another closely connected question was suggested by this subject of social reform. It might be true, but he would like to have more evidence on it, that rural life was inherently a more healthy life than town life as it was now carried on. If the authorities on physical deterioration who had been quoted were to be taken literally, they would be obliged to accept the view that the rural population, which certainly had earned lower wages than the town population, could raise their families in conditions which gave a far more effective and vigorous population. He wondered whether that was true. If it was, it was a very serious consideration for all who looked ahead, because it was plain that whatever they did with regard to the system of land tenure, and however much they attempted to divide the soil and increase the rural population, the result could be but a drop in the ocean compared with the increase to which they must look forward if we were to maintain our position among the nations of the world, and which could only take place, he would not say in urban districts, but, at all events, in manufacturing districts. It might be that in the future we should find some method of carrying on in country districts under modern conditions, and in circumstances which would enable them to compete with great urban or semi-urban factories, some kind of manufacture having no relation whatever to rural life. Hon. Gentlemen who were interested in this question would admit that only a very small amount of progress had been made in this direction. He did not, however, see very hopeful signs of such a change, and on the whole he could not honestly say that he believed we were within sight of another state of things under which the great manufactures of this country could be carried on under truly rural conditions. If that were so, and if it were also true—he was still reluctant to accept the statement—that a rural life even with small wages was inherently more wholesome and led to a more vigorous breed than town life with larger wages, the prospect before us was a very serious one. The matter would be still more serious if they supposed that they were providing a remedy for this difficulty by this scheme or any other scheme designed to promote a return to the land. Whatever they did in regard to the return to the land, however much their plans might increase the rural population—and he was not so sanguine as some who had spoken in favour of the Bill—they could do but an infinitesimal fraction of what would be required if a large proportion of the inhabitants of this country were to be country bred. He believed this country made the choice sixty years ago when the repeal of the Corn Laws took place. It was then decided that henceforth the development of this country must be a manufacturing development. He believed that choice was rightly made. He was not one of those who ever thought that the decision come to in 1846 was a decision which could be long postponed whatever had happened, but let them logically accept the consequences of their own acts or the acts of their forefathers. Let them admit that if Great Britain was to be an increasing community, as he hoped, the increase must be in the main not a rural increase, but an urban increase. If they believed they were effectively dealing with the tremendous problem of urban life, and all the difficulties which these great agglomerations of mankind inevitably brought upon the administrators of sanitary science, education, physical culture and the rest of them; if they believed that, then they were lulling themselves with the falsest and most foolish hopes, and turning their eyes from the real social problem with which this country had to deal to the small and relatively insignificant fringe of it. His right hon. friend the Member for Bordesley differed from him. The question was one of arithmetic. How many more people could they get on the land, supposing their most sanguine estimates were fulfilled? What proportion would they bear to the growing urban population? If his right hon. friend would do that sum he would see that, admirable as was the cause to which he had devoted himself, and heartily as he himself sympathised both with his objects and his methods, he must not exaggerate the proportion which any effort of this kind bore to the total of that great social problem which was still before us. It was because he felt most strongly and earnestly on this point that he deeply regretted the rhetorical commonplaces, quite sincerely intended, with which this question of the rural population was too often adorned—or defaced, whichever phrase they cared to adopt. It ought not to militate against the earnestness with which each one of them was ready to devote himself to this question, that it did not bear so large a proportion to the total problem of the health and vigour of the community as some of the advocates of this and other measures believed. He wished he could think that by merely facilitating the acquisition of small tenancies or small freeholds the problem that met them every day when they walked through the metropolis would receive even the beginnings of a solution. That was not so. They would only be nursing themselves with fake hopes if they supposed that even the best meant endeavours of the most well-meaning Governments, if they confined themselves to this problem alone, would touch in essentials those great social questions which were the cause of so much thought among all classes of the community, whose minds had been directed more and more to the real difficulties of a growing population, it creasing centralisation, the closer packing of human beings in industrial life, and all the collateral difficulties which these great social phenomena produced.
said he was one of those who found himself in general agreement with the policy of the Government. Whenever there had been any question as to the line taken up by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill he had decided that the Government was right, and that those who took the opposite view were trying to do more than was possible "within the scope of this Bill. After all was said and done, village life was a good deal better now than it was twenty-five years ago They had not gone back; on the contrary, they had gone forward. That was one of the things which really necessitated a Bill of this kind. The old benevolent despotism was coming to an end owing to a number of causes, and this was mainly due to the improvement in the education of the rural labourers, and to a large extent to the poverty of the rural landlord. There were wide stretches of the country a? the present time in which there was no resident landlord, and a state of things was arising in many large country districts where he believed a Bill of this kind would give the labourers a chance of working out their own salvation Such a measure was most urgently required by everybody who looked forward to the future welfare and improvement of our country villages. He represented a division in which there were hardly any resident landlords, and where the farms were mostly large and were rapidly becoming larger, and where everything done in the village was done by a large farmer if it was done at all. It was because he believed that the breaking up of some of these large farms was the most important thing for rural reformers that he gave such a hearty support to the provisions of this measure. His hon. friend had thrown considerable doubt and expressed misgivings as to the attitude which the county councils would take in regard to this measure. In this matter they could not go behind local opinion as expressed in these councils, and what they must do was to try and get that public opinion to co-operate with them in every possible way. The present constitution of county councils was not what it would be for all time. They were popularly elected and were responsible to public opinion, and unless he was very much mistaken there would be a very considerable trend of public opinion in favour of using to the very utmost the operation of this Bill. That influence must make itself felt on the county councils of the country, just as public opinion made itself felt in this House or any other elected assembly. Naturally, with all other hon. Members who were interested in this question he welcomed the great assistance and cooperation which they would receive from the Commissioners who would be responsible to the Board of Agriculture. For the first time they had now got this question brought right down to the floor of the House. The work done by the Commissioners and the Board of Agriculture and the way they influenced the action of the county Councils would in the future always be a matter with which the House could deal in every particular. There was one other consideration which he would venture to put before the Government. He had been a member of a county council for fifteen years. When he was first elected a county council had only to deal with roads and lunatics. The other matters they had to deal with were of very small moment. During those fifteen years there had been hardly a session without one or more important reforms being passed by Parliament giving increased powers and responsibilities to county councils. Parliament had always treated county councils as the agents for carrying out various matters of national moment or importance; the work had actually been increasing from year to year, and as a necessary consequence the local rates had been increasing as well. As a result of all these reforms it became a matter of increasing urgency that the whole question of national and local finance, and the relations between the two, should be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. He did not think that this "House ought to go on treating county councils as the agents for carrying out national reforms unless it was prepared to give to the various county councils at no distant-date a rather more liberal and generous grant of money to deal with these various matters. There was one other consideration. On the Ministerial side of the House they desired particularly to see local authorities, and especially county councils, more representative of all classes of the community. The difficulties they were faced with in the country districts were financial as much as anything else, and he thought the House ought to make up its mind to give county councils the power of paying the travelling expenses of those who had to attend their meetings and who were now being called upon to give increased time to their public duties. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley had exhorted some of them not to go down to the villages and talk about the security of tenure which this Bill would give. He was afraid that in this matter he did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. His opinion was that under the Bill and under the local control which it gave to the individual cultivators the tenant would receive security of tenure and rent in as great a degree, indeed in a much greater degree than he received it from his landlord at the present time. He thought he could show that that would be quite adequate. A parish council which took an estate and let it out in allotments was not likely to act in a harsh fashion towards any one individual cultivator. In the average country village, if any parish council ejected an allotment holder without giving a sufficient reason, it would cause as great a storm in that village as the passage of a Home Rule Bill in this House. The county council would be influenced by the same reasons and would be deterred by the same objections from acting in an autocratic manner towards the various cultivators of they soil. When all was said and done he-desired that under this Bill there should be good and not bad cultivation. He looked to the county councils, and he thought it was their duty, to see that the cultivators worked the land to-the best advantage. They very often cultivated the land much better than the large farmer whose place they were going to take. As far as security was concerned, he was quite satisfied that the security the cultivator would receive from the various local authorities would be satisfactory. His own experience was that the men themselves were practically indifferent as to whether they were tenants or holders as long as they thought the-security was good and the rent was-fair. What they cared about was, first of all, that they should pay a-fair rent, and secondly, that they should be able to receive a fair reward for their labours without the danger of being turned out of their holdings. He thought it was doubtful whether peasant proprietorship spelt prosperity and success. A few weeks ago there was a great uprising in a portion of France where peasant proprietorship was the rule The peasantry there were engaged in wine growing, and, in spite of the fact that they had control of the home market, and that they were protected against foreign wine producers, they had reached a condition of poverty in which no one desired to see the small proprietors who would be created by this Bill. In this country tenancy had done a great deal for the cultivation of the land. The Leader of the Opposition in an interesting speech stated the other day that he regarded it as necessary for the-success of small holders that ownership should be given to them. At present there were two-thirds of our farmers who occupied not less than fifty acres of land, and the results were sufficient to show that tenacy was not altogether an exploded system. In spite of great disadvantages the tenantry of this country produced the largest yield of corn per acre on any land in the world, and he saw no reason why the small holders should not be able to produce just as good result as the large farmers had achieved. He thanked the Government heartily for introducing this Bill. He believed when it was carried into law the dawn of better things would be witnessed in many of our country villages. Many hon. Members could, perhaps, direct their energies quite as usefully to the work of the county councils in their own districts as by attending in this House. He earnestly hoped that hon. Members in all parts of the House would give the best assistance they could in endeavouring to secure the successful working of the measure.
commented on the optimistic ideal of hon. Members opposite that this measure would solve the great national problems of overcrowding and depopulation at the same time, and said that if these hon. Gentlemen had more practical acquaintance with rural affairs and land management they would take a saner view of what was possible by the aid of legislation. The hon. Member for Wilt-shire had alluded to geographical difficulties and stated that the county councils were not truly representative. If that was true of county councils, it was far more true of the House of Commons, but that did not prevent hon. Gentlemen opposite from stating that that House represented the views of the people. He maintained that county councils, having been elected on a wide franchise, were fully qualified to carry out the views of those who elected them, whatever the geo-graphical difficulties might be. What was true of one elected body was true of another, and they had no more right to accuse the county councils of being unrepresentative than they had to bring the charge against that House. This Bill had had a very harmonious passage through the House and all sections owed very much to the tact and good management of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure. He had nevertheless concealed the iron hand under the velvet glove, because he had not made any concessions, and his method of refusing any concession had been so pleasant and so difficult to resist that it had almost seemed to hon. Members that in submitting them to a blank refusal the right hon. Gentleman was doing them a great favour. Opposition Members had had so many compliments paid to them by hon. Members opposite that he could not help feeling some misgiving as to whether they had not been committing some fearful political crime. He felt rather in the position of the man who was congratulated by the burglar on having left his house open. However, he was glad to think that the Bill had received the hearty co-operation of all parties. The real lions in the path of the right hon. Gentleman had been some earnest Radical Members who had sought to introduce irrelevant matters into the Bill. Upon the whole the Bill had a harmonious passage through Committee, and it was only when it came down to the House that they discovered that they were under the brutal autocracy of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was like a man in the habit of taking a drug; he got so wedded to it that he had got into the guillotine habit. So impressed was he with the habit that not only did he think it was necessary for the House, but he thought it was also good for it. The Opposition had been treated in a niggardly fashion. The Government having given the House a few hours of discussion had failed entirely to muzzle their own Members, and so much time had been occupied by Radical Members below the gangway that Opposition Members had been prevented from moving important Amendments which might have improved the Bill. If they were told by their constituents that there were certain things which they might have done better, they would have to answer that owing to the verbosity of hon. Gentlemen below the gangway opposite, and to the closure Resolution moved by the Prime Minister, it had been impossible for hon. Members on that side to carry out all they could have wished. Reference had been made by an hon. Gentleman opposite to the condition of things among agricultural labourers in the county of Norfolk. That was a county which was largely populated by city financiers and where there were Radical local Parliaments. Any section of the population living in a county like that might find it difficult to call their souls their own, but he did not think that these conditions prevailed in the north of England, The action taken by the Opposition in regard to this Bill had been beneficial. They had not been able to obtain many concessions, but some of them were of importance. They had security, for instance, that the rate to be raised should not exceed a penny, and that the whole or part of the loss accruing from the experiment would be borne by the Treasury. That would go far to allay the apprehensions which had been felt in regard to the Bill. Certain safeguards for the labourer had been introduced, and something had also been done—he wished it had been greater—to protect the interests of farmers whose land would be taken for the purposes of the measure. These Amendments were very valuable, and he thought the representatives of agricultural districts on that side of the House deserved credit for having persuaded the right hon. Gentleman to accept them. He and his friends still objected to the principle of compulsory hiring and perpetual renewal by one party only. They still objected to a bureaucracy over-riding the county councils. The hon. Member for Somerset had spoken of the aldermen in the county councils as not being of a thoroughly representative character owing to a number of them having been appointed members after their defeat as candidates at the election. It was said that that would naturally prejudice them against small holdings; but he would remind the hon. Gentleman that in the West Riding the county council was an absolutely packed body, and that the aldermen, with few exceptions, were all Liberals. In that division, however, no more advance had been made in creating small holdings than anywhere else. He hoped that the earnest anticipation of hon. Members as to the success of this Bill when it became law would be fully realised; but he wished to warn the House that there were some districts where strawberries, onions, and tomatoes could not be grown, and that were only fitted for sheep and grass. It would be foolish and indeed fatal to create a demand for small holdings in such districts, because hopes would be inspired which were bound to be disappointed; and a land hunger would be stimulated to the great injury of small holders. The hon. Member for Somerset had expressed the hope that they on that side of the House would do their best to make the Bill a thorough success. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that he would do all he could to do so, and if unfortunately considerable hardship fell on the landlords, the tenant farmers, and the agricultural labourers, the responsibility would rest with the Government.
said that as one who had taken great interest in the Bill since its introduction, he desired to express the feeling of gratitude to the Government of a very large number of agricultural labourers in many parts of the country. He admitted that there were some parts where the Bill could not be of much advantage, but there were other districts where it would be of immense help. He had listened both in the House and in Committee, and again in the House that day to what had been said against the Bill by those who had what, they called grave fears connected with it. Some hon. Members seemed to be afraid that the Bill contained the elements of Socialism. There was not one hon. Member below the gangway who claimed to be a Socialist who was ashamed of his Socialism. His friends did not recognise him as a Socialist from their point of view, but he had no fears in regard to those who were further advanced than he was. The right hon. Member for the Bordesley division had stated that they were deluding the agricultural labourers in regard to the Bill and what it was going to do for them, and the right hon. Gentleman also suggested that the Rural Labourers' League had been increasing the number of its agents in all the villages, trying to show the villagers that this Government would not help them to purchase their holdings. He would probably come across the League in the villages, and would endeavour to show that this Bill was never intended as a Land Purchase Bill, it was principally meant to encourage tenancy. If the Bill of 1892 had been useful it would be now for they did not wish to do anything to prevent purchase. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the tenants would not be secure under the Bill, but in spite of the right hon. Gentleman's argument he (Mr. Nicholls) believed that with tenancy under a local authority the tenants would be secure in their holdings. He was a tenant under a local authority for some years; and as most people knew, when once a man entered into such a tenancy, as long as he paid his rent, farmed well, and remained in the district, he was secure. He was secure and felt secure, and that was a very great improvement on some of the tenancies held in other districts under other conditions. He had had hundreds of letters from all over the country in regard to this matter. In spite of what had been said, he had always recognised that there were good landlords who had done their duty to their tenants, and had helped them in a difficulty. But there was a very large margin left of landlords under whom the tenants did not feel secure. Here was an illustration of what happened in some districts. He know a tenant who held his land for nineteen years. It was a small holding at a rent of £35, with £7 for outgoings. Three years ago he asked his landlord's consent to plant strawberries and to go in for improved cultivation. The landlord consented, and the tenant did well. At the end of last year the landlord came to him and said that two other tenants had offered him £50 a year rent, and that if he would take the holding on a lease of ten years at a rent of £50 a year he could remain. What was the man to do I He had lived on this land all these years; he had made it what it was; he had spent money and hard work upon it until it became part of his life. He did not want to leave his small farm, but the landlord said, "You must pay a rent of £50 and take a ten years lease or go." And the man agreed to pay a rent of £50 with £7 for outgoings, and to sign a lease for ten years. Some hon. Members seemed to doubt that there were villages where the agricultural labourers were afraid to lift up their heads. He would mention some facts in regard to that. At a meeting which he attended, without mentioning any names, he stated the case of the poor fellow which he had just quoted. That man wrote to him saying—
He knew that there were scores of villages and rural districts where men who had been waiting for this Bill would welcome it heartily. He knew what he was talking about, for he was head of an organisation which covered the best part of a rural area where small cultivation could be carried on. He know of 3,000 bona fide, agricultural labourers who were keen on this land question, and wished to obtain small holdings or allotments under the local authorities. Some weeks ago, after the Bill had been introduced, he sent requests to representative men in a number of villages to ask the following questions:—(1.) "1s there any demand in your district for allotments and small holdings?" "Yes," was the reply in almost every case. (2.) "Is the soil suitable for small cultivation 1" The answer was in most cases, "Yes." (3.) "Has any effort been made by the local authority to provide small holdings and allotments? "Answer in some cases "Yes." (4.) "what steps have the men taken themselves to get their demands satisfied? "Answer—" They filed petitions and memorials to the local authority." (S.) "Have the landlords shown any sympathy with the small holdings and allotments? "Answer in some cases" Yes," but in many cases there had been a blank refusal. (6.) "Do you believe that the men would prefer purchase to hiring?" In a very few cases, indeed not more than five, the-answer was, "we would like purchase if we could see our way to get the money; "but in all the other cases the answer was, "We prefer to hire, because what little money we have will be required to run the holding, and as long as we are under a local authority we should feel safe and be secure in our holding." (7.) "Have the labourers capital to run small holdings 1" In nearly every case the men declared that they had some money, and in some cases they said that they had enough capital to take a five or ten acre holding and to stock and to work it. Surely some advance had been made in this matter of small holdings, when it was recognised in all quarters of the House and in Committee upstairs that there was need for such a Bill. In fact, the situation had been forced upon Parliament. He was prepared to say that some landlords had encouraged small holdings, but many of them had not and would not; and when they were asked the reason why, they said straight away that they did not want to get a new element on their estates. The landlords and the larger tenant farmers in fact wished to control the whole district. That was clear from the speeches which had been made in another place. Said one noble Lord—"For Heaven's sake do not mention my name, because my landlord is a hard old man, and although I have a ten years lease he will make it very hard for me. You can mention the fact without the name and if you want I will prove the truth of what you have said, but I do not want to get into any more trouble."
What did that involve? It involved keeping from the land those with whom they would not associate. He had always felt when holding his land under the local authority that if the paid his rent, cultivated well, and remained in the district he was secure; but there were scores of men who paid their rent regularly, who cultivated well, and who wanted to remain in the district, who, however, did not feel secure in their tenancy. There was no need for him to say why. Hon. Members on both sides of the House knew why. What was wanted was to be able to prove to small ten lilts that as long as they paid their rents, cultivated well, and lived in the district, they were free to go on any platform they liked and speak their mind, or to go to any church or chapel they chose. There was need for this Bill, because under the old conditions men who wanted land could not get it because of the conditions he had stated. Hence the need of com pulsion. Every other means had been adopted and had failed. He was old enough to believe that although they got compulsion there would not invariably be the need of enforcing it. The very fact that the machinery was there to enforce hire or sale, and that it could be done, would be enough to make those who had been lagging come up to the scratch. He knew of a case where two working men had been returned to the county council, and their expenses paid by their fellow labourers. For ten years these two men had endeavoured to get the county council to provide small holdings, but their fight had been in vain. It would strengthen the hands of these men in the county council, if they were able to stand up and say, "Look here, we have been trying to get you to provide small holdings, and you would not. Now we have got other machinery. You failed to act or make inquiry, now we can get the Agricultural Commissioners to make inquiries." If the county councils in such circumstances had a good case against small holdings, what had they to fear? They might say that the land was not suitable, or that the labourers did not understand the cultivation of the land; but all that would be inquired into by the Agricultural Commissioners. The Report of the Committee on Small Holdings made some reference to failures, and the opponents of the Bill said, "Look at what has happened; men obtained small holdings and deserted them, and they are now thrown out of cultivation." If further search was made in the Report it would be found that in every one of those cases where the small holdings had failed, it was due either to the soil not being suitable or to the land being too far from the men's homes. He knew what it was to run an allotment of an acre or so a mile from his own door. Even when the soil was not suitable the rent demanded for small holdings was far above the average rent of adjacent farms. The result was that the small holders became discontented, and asked why they should have to pay this increased rent? He favoured the case of small associations, say of twenty men, who took a twenty acre field, each having allotted to him an acre. In such cases the men were invariably prepared to be responsible, the one for the other. They trusted one another, they stood loyal to one another, and would do so in the future. These men knew one another and trusted one another, and these local associations could give a helping hand to the local authorities, which would dispel all the fears which seemed to be entertained in regard to the working of this Bill. He did not know everything, and he was prepared to admit that he did not know every county in the country, but he did know the Eastern Counties, where they had some of the finest men and the finest land, and if they could only get these fine sturdy East Anglians with a foothold and freedom upon the soil, they would get the best Territorial Army that could be provided in this country, at least for the Eastern Counties. If they gave these men a foothold upon the soil they need not fear any foreign invasion along our coasts. He was satisfied that these Ironsides of the Eastern Counties would protect our Eastern shore, because they loved it, and had an interest in its defence."What is it that makes ownership of land attractive? It is the right of selecting what person we wish to be associated with in the cultivation of the soil."
said he desired to add his thanks to the Government for this Bill, and to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he had conducted it through the House. The Bill was moderate, was elastic, and was adapted to our system of rural life; he therefore warmly welcomed it and had high hopes of its success. The only regret he had was that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Chippenham, authorising county councils to sell land compulsorily acquired had not been adopted. The criticism of this Bill fell under two heads; first, that this Bill was unjust and tyrannical to landowners, and second that it was unpractical and would accomplish nothing. As regards the first class of criticism there had fortunately been very little of it, and indeed such statements were obviously absurd and indefensible. The main attack, if such a strong word was in place, was under the second head, the practicability of the Bill. Men of such diverse views as the right hon. Member for Bordesley and his hon. friend the Member for North West Ham united in criticising the Bill on these lines. In his belief they were both unduly devoted to theories. British agriculture was not like the privet, capable of being cut into the exact shapes beloved of those who held theories; it partook more of the nature of our indigenous tree, the oak. The great merit of this measure was that theory and, as he admitted, even logic were subordinated in order to adapt the Bill to the actual conditions existing. As regards risk, he believed there would be but few failures; but he hoped that the Treasury would deal very generously with any county council which did its best, but had its small holdings fail' They had never claimed on that side of the House, as the Leader of the Opposition in his stimulating and interesting speech seemed to imply, that this Bill would change the face of the country and sweep away slums. It would, however, materially check the vicious system by which agricultural labourers moved into the towns and became members of that hopeless class, the casual labourers, the class from which almost all the unemployed were recruited. He was also hopeful that eventually under this Bill men who had gone to the towns would return to the country; he did not, however, hope to see this as yet. His hope was that the crumbling away of the rural population, some of the finest material in the world, would be stayed. When once they had small holdings established the demand for them would be very large. He might mention the recent case of Bromham in Wiltshire, where, with 230 acres available, 550 acres and twenty houses were asked for. This after a Crown farm in the neighbourhood had been divided up. He believed the Bill would be the foundation-stone of a great edifice of rural prosperity, for small holdings were no longer experimental. All over the country they had been established, and in almost every case they had been a success. Opinion had changed on this subject, and gentlemen like Mr. Eider Haggard and others, who used to oppose small holdings, were now in favour of them. He believed that out of the hot iron of public opinion this Government had forged a weapon that would be of the greatest use in checking rural depopulation.
said that as to the benefit the Bill would give to the labourer for whom it was brought forward, he confessed he was somewhat sceptical, not so much on the ground of the sins of omission and commission in the Bill, but because he was one of those who held that the fact of agriculturists leaving the country had very little to do with either economics or agriculture. It was, in his opinion, due to a stronger incentive than either of these, and that was human nature. He believed the agriculturist was leaving the country for the greater part simply because he found the town more attractive. That was a sentiment which many Members of that House and many other classes in life found actuated them in the same direction. There was that about the companionship and the sense of security and the absence of melancholy that companionship gave, and that distraction and attraction of the town, and perhaps also the charm of a dissipated life, which appealed to some. Those among others had been far greater reasons than economical ones for the attraction of labourers from the country. One was compelled to consider the counter-attractions which were held out by the Government under this Bill to induce labourers to return to the countryside. The labourer had no prospect of any pride of possession, he had nothing but tenancy offered to him. If he worked hard he had the prospect of amassing sufficient money to pay the rent and a sinking fund which would in the end enable somebody else to buy the land. If that was the best that could be said for the measure from the rural labourers' point of view, some far more powerful attraction and some much stronger magnet would be needed before any man would be induced to leave the pavement for the plough. Though it might not attract men from the town, it might go some way to keep men in the country who were already there. It was universally agreed that that was most desirable, and that was the part of the proposal that he hoped would succeed. He thought, however, that this consideration had been left out, viz., that the men who would take the small holdings would not be taken from the towns, but would be taken from the farms. If there were those who had sufficient capital in their hands and insufficient sense to risk their capital, it might be that in some cases they might benefit their position by taking small holdings; but how was it proposed that agriculture itself would be benefited as a whole, merely by the operation of shifting men from one field and putting them down upon another? There was very little about the measure of which the farmer himself approved. The Bill proposed to take from the farmer perhaps both his labour and his land. It must be borne in mind, too, that the farmer was a ratepayer, and in that capacity he was liable under the Bill to have to pay still higher rates than at present. The farmer was, therefore, in the peculiar position of being called upon from his own pocket to pay such increased rates as would facilitate his own undoing. Ratepayers generally were very much affected by the Bill. His own idea was that there was nothing ratepayers would not rather do without than pay higher rates. Having fought two elections more or less upon the education question, his own impression was that it was not the denominational rate but the increased rate that the electors of the country objected to. There was a saying in Yorkshire, "We give nothing for nout, and very little for sixpence." He did not know if that were true of his countrymen; but, at any rate, he believed that there were large classes of ratepayers who wanted something for nothing, and would do without if they had to pay for it. One of the things the ratepayer would be willing to do without if he had to pay an increased rate for it was the establishment of a system of small holdings. Then there were the county councils. He was glad the right hon. Gentleman did recognise their existence, but the flail of compulsion was ever over them, and they were compelled to do what they did not believe in at their own cost. He did not believe that could be done without raising a certain amount of surly discontent. They all wished, without any cant or humbug, to see the countryside prosperous, and it was only as to the means for bringing about that desirable result that some of them differed. When the Bill once became law he should do what little he could to make it a success, and his final attitude in the matter was one of benevolent criticism.
said that when this Bill was before them for Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it stated that the machinery which was embodied in it to bring into existence small holdings was the minimum necessary for that purpose. The measure had been before the Standing Committee and it had passed the Report stage in that House, and he did not think that the machinery had been improved and strengthened in order to bring about what they all desired, namely, the increase and the strengthening of our rural population. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman had done everything he could do to reconcile the two shools of thought, those who believed that the ills which the law could cure were few, and those who thought that every grievance could be remedied by legislation. He was however most grateful to the Government for this Bill, but a great deal depended on the machinery and the Commissioners who were to be appointed. No doubt many county councils would do their best to make the measure a success, but at the same they could not close their eyes to the fact that there were many country councils who did not look with favour on the Bill. When they remembered the utter failure of the Act of 1892 it was quite natural that some should be a little apprehensive that the powers of the Commissioners were somewhat limited, and that they did not go far enough to encourage the demand for small holdings. There were undoubtedly districts where those in authority were somewhat destitute of ideas, where the only idea they seemed to possess was that whatever was evil lay in the future and that the past had been nothing but good. He was sure that anybody going to those rural districts and advocating, or saying anything about, small holdings would be looked upon as a most wicked and dangerous individual to be shunned and avoided. Under these circumstances could anyone be surprised that the labouring classes in these districts had not the initiative to see how they could improve their conditions in life? It was in regard to these eases that he thought the powers of the Commissioners ought to be strengthened. He knew many of these labouring classes who, if they were placed on small holdings with security of tenure so long as they paid their rent, would make their holdings a success. It was important that some system should be devised by which both large and small farmers might he enabled to obtain a proper knowledge of the markets of the world, so that they might get the best possible price for their produce. He knew of a large farmer seventy miles from London who only a short time ago sold his wheat for 27s. a quarter, when American wheat on the same day was sold in London at 32s. Whether the Bill was to be a success would depend on the working of the machinery. If the Government could assist agriculture by loans and give the agricultural population security of tenure, fair rent, and compensation for improvements, they would do more to arrest rural depopulation than could be done in any other way.
Everyone who was in the House must have heard with approval the earnest and thoughtful speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I think the warning uttered by my right hon. friend both timely and desirable, and in that warning I shall support him. Although I have always been anxious to increase as far as possible the number of small holdings in this country, and although I gave proof of my desire a number of years ago at a time when I was responsible for a measure introduced upon the subject, even at that time I was careful to point out that that enterprise could only be regarded as an experiment, although it was one which the then Government were justified in making. Having said this I desire to pass to the debate we have had this afternoon and to begin with a few words in reply to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Agriculture in this House. The hon. Gentleman began by warmly repudiating the suggestion that the Government were evidently hostile to anything in the nature of the creation of new ownerships of land, and said the Government were not in the least degree hostile to any such thing. All I can say is that the authors of this Bill have carefully refrained from putting anything into it, or making any Amendment of the Act of 1892, which would have the effect of facilitating or bringing about in a larger degree the ownership of land. And only a few nights ago when we on this side moved an Amendment which would have enabled the county councils to purchase land for persons who desired to purchase it, that Amendment was rejected by the Government, who would have nothing to do with it. It seems to me therefore that the suggestion made that the Government were hostile was justified. The right hon. Gentleman at an earlier stage of the Bill made no secret of this, that while he was good enough to consent to leave the Act of 1892 alone he also said that if he had thought the Act was likely to have a considerable effect in creating the number of small holders of land he would have probably taken some action against it. The hon. Gentleman went on to express his confident conviction that no loss would accrue. But there is one thing with regard to the Treasury Minutes promised which requires to be cleared up and upon which I should like to be assured. I understand that where the work is done reasonably by the county councils and there is a loss, that loss will be repaid under the Treasury Minute to the extent of about one-half.
Where the Treasury are satisfied it is reasonable.
Then comes the other part of the question. Where the work is done by the Commissioners over the heads of the county councils, against their advice and there is a loss, that loss is to be repaid under Sub-section 3, Clause 5. Is that view accepted by the Government?
No, sir, it is not. The matter was not discussed, but it was stated, and quite clearly understood by the County Councils Association, that where the Board of Agriculture acts in default of a county council Sub-section 3 of Clause 5 comes into operation, and that under that the Board may repay either part or the whole.
The Government is not pledged to pay the whole.
That was a point which required to be made clear. I adhere to everything I have said upon the subject of compulsory hiring, and I shall be very agreeably disappointed if that system proves to be permanently successful. I have little doubt that it will be successful in the first instance. People will be glad enough to take good crops out of virgin land for two or three years, but whether they will be equally ready to spend upon it the money necessary to keep it in good condition is a different question. In more than half the counties in England allotments have already been given up in many districts, and I am not very sanguine as to what will happen in this case. I do not mean to delay the House, or to travel again over ground which has been debated before, but I wish to say one thing before I sit down. We are approaching the close of our discussions on a measure which makes the most drastic and important changes in the land system of this country that I ever recollect in the course of a long Parliamentary career. And I am sure there is no Member of this House who can recollect up to the time of the reign of the present Prime Minister any measure of similar magnitude and importance being discussed under what seems to me the extraordinary, but unhappily in these days by no means exceptional conditions, which prevail at present. It is only right that on the Third Reading of this Bill the position should be put as clearly as it can be before the country. This is a Bill of forty-seven clauses and three schedules which are equal to five clauses. For the discussion of this Bill in this House we have had one day for its introduction, two days for Second Reading and three days for Report, and a morning sitting for this stage—barely seven days in all. Most important provisions have never been discussed in the House at all, a position which it is impossible to justify. I have whilst others were speaking this morning, looked through the Bill and made a list of what appeared to me to be important questions, not one of which have been reached and discussed in this House. No. (1) is the number of dwelling houses that ought to be allowed on small holdings or allotments. (2) The transfer to the parish of the whole control over the allotments, even to those parishes which have no parish councils. (3) The absence of any limit so far as I can see to the borrowing powers of the parish councils for this particular purpose. (4) The existing confusion between Sections 21 and 46, which as it seems to me, must be altered. (5) As to how far it is right that the county councils should be the only tenants in this country or in Scotland who are able to claim compensation from their landlords for permanent improvements, made without either the notice to, or the consent of, the landlords, which is required from all other tenants in the country. (6) There is in the schedule all the machinery for taking land compulsorily, and this is still more important, all the provisions for compensation; and the question is whether the compensation is to be ascertained by arbitration or a valuer only. The right hon. Gentleman made one concession during the passage of the Bill through the Committee. He agreed that this matter should be referred to the Lord Chief Justice of England instead of the Board of Agriculture, where the tenants could not themselves agree; but that does not touch the question I refer to in the schedule. Not one of these questions have ever been reached or discussed at all. I was delighted to hear from the hon. Gentleman opposite his recantation of the views he held at one time on the question of Grand Committee.
I did not recant. I still think the system of Grand Committees is the only system of dealing with these questions.
I do not wish to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, but, unless I wholly misunderstood him, he told us that while we were upstairs, and until we came to the stage of Report, he fully approved of the proceedings on the Committee and the debates we heard there; but that he had changed his views since we came to the Report stage, which was desolation, and the hon. Member will admit that that is a strong expression. I hope it will be borne in mind by the Government. Coming as it does from the most earnest among all the earnest Radicals of to-day, it is a good indication that there is even on the Government side of the House a rather widespread feeling against the system under which legislation is now conducted, and I believe it is absolutely true, as stated by my right hon. friend, that it is bringing the House of Commons into discredit and disrepute in the country. Why have we been subjected to this pressure in the House of Commons? Is it contended that there was an undue waste of time in the Committee? The best possible proof that there was not is the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, by means of his ability and his conciliatory manner, never found it necessary even once to move the closure during the course of the debates. That cannot, therefore, be the reason. The Prime Minister rather complained of me the other day when I challenged him when he was moving his Resolution for the closure on this Bill. I then complained that he had given absolutely no reason whatever for his guillotine Resolution, but took the whole thing as a matter of course and of procedure, and tried to move the Resolution before the Bill had even been reprinted. But the right hon. Gentleman thought better of that, and had to postpone it. The main reason why forty clauses were not discussed was simply because the time allotted was wholly insufficient to enable us to discuss the important details of this Bill, which had been removed from the cognisance of this House. It is all very well to say that fifty gentlemen should go upstairs and thrash out the matter, as they did, to the best of their ability. But that is not what the House of Commons is here for. It is to have these matters before them that the House of Commons exists. The House of Commons has a perfect right to know everything that goes on. So far as the House and the public outside are concerned they are absolutely in the dark as to what was said for and against most important proposals, except so far as they have been discussed in this House. I heard with amazement the speech which the Prime Minister made last night, when he appeared to complain that the time spent in Committee on another Bill was out of all proportion; that twenty-two days were occupied in the examination of the Scottish Land Bill. Does the right hon. Gentleman still think it was out of all proportion? Does he remember the great Land Bill of 1881, introduced by Mr. Gladstone? Of course he must. He was in the House in those days, and, if I am not wrong, the right hon. Gentleman was a colleague of Mr. Gladstone at that time.
A humble colleague.
Does he remember how many days the Irish Land Bill took? That Bill, in the discussion of which I myself took a more or less active part, was in the House of Commons no less than fifty-eight days in one session. That was a great measure, conducted by a great Minister. Yet that was not so revolutionary a measure, so completely upsetting the whole Irish land system, as the Bill now before the country upsets the whole land system of Scotland. Mr. Gladstone raised not the smallest complaint or ever maintained that that Bill was in this House a day or an hour too long for the full consideration of the measure, and surely the right hon. Gentleman has no right to complain if hon. Members of this House are determined to insist upon proper time being given to the consideration of this measure also.
The right hon. Gentlemen is referring to old days, but I may remind him that there was no closure thon, and that was why the discussion was so expanded.
I wish that we all could go back to those old days. My recollection is quite different from that of the right hon. Gentleman. Mr. Gladstone was one of the greatest of all Parliamentarians, but I have no recollection of hearing the smallest hint from him that the discussions on that great measure had taken one day longer than they ought to have done. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman, if he searches history, will find anything from Mr. Gladstone that will confirm the view he has just given to the House. I do not wish to travel over ground that has already been traversed, but among the clauses which were not argued are many points that ought to have been discussed fully, and one in particular which I desire to call attention to. That is the great confusion created in the Bill between Clauses 46 and 21 which deal with the relative size of allotments. When the Bill was introduced the size of a small holding in Clause 46 was to be anything between five and fifty acres. In the Grand Committee, after a division, in which we were successful in defeating the Government and which was one of the four occasions on which we had the assistance of some of the more earnest Radicals, the words "which exceeds five acre" were excised from the Bill, and a small holding remained anything under fifty acres. The right hon. Gentleman, however, has inserted an Amendment last night which passed sub silentio, re-establishing the old limit of the Act of 1892, and a small holding now is anything between one acre and fifty acres. But the clause still remains which increases the size of the allotment to five acres, and small holdings and allotments therefore overlap. The right hon. Gentleman saw the inconvenience of this because he put in an Amendment which provides that the duty of the county council is not to supply allotments of more than one acre. The definition of five acres still remains an arrangement which seems likely to cause endless confusion and inconvenience in the future. This is a matter that certainly should be altered.
When I accepted the decision of the Committee and left out the minimum limit of five acres and inserted the old limit of one acre, I recognised that it was obviously impossible to impose a concurrent duty of providing more than one acre on two parties. I had to limit, therefore, the actual duty of the council to one acre, leaving it the power to provide five acres, while beyond five they had the power, with the consent of the county council.
That does not do away with the confusion.
That was the decision of the Committee.
I know, and it had to be dealt with, and although the right hon. Gentleman has gone a long way towards it, I do not think he has quite got rid of the difficulty. I do not wish to delay the House any longer. I share the hopes—I cannot say with perfect truth that I share the anticipations—of so many hon. Members opposite as to the success of this measure in the future. I greatly regret that the Government excluded from the operation of the Bill the creation of new small ownerships, the creation of these, being perhaps, the best policy that could be pursued to attain success, if success can be attained, in the direction we all desire. Neither do I believe in the permanent success of compulsory hiring, for the reasons already given; and I own that I am disappointed in the concessions that have been made. I have already warmly acknowledged the conciliatory disposition shown at all times by the right hon. Gentleman, but there were some further concessions which I had hoped he would have been able to make. Some concessions which I acknowledge to be of considerable value have been made; but the Bill has still to pass through another Chamber, where at least freedom of speech has not been abolished, and where the Prime Minister is not able at present to exercise the control which he desires. If the measure should come back to the House with some reasonable Amendments designed by men who really know what they are talking about, designed to improve the Bill and to make it a permanent success, I hope that will be received and considered in the same conciliatory spirit by the Government, as the present proposals have been received by hon. Gentlemen sitting upon this side of the House.
We have had in the course of this debate three speeches from Members on the Front Opposition Bench. First came my right hon. friend the Member for Bordesley, who argued with his usual force and clearness in favour of purchase and ownership as against any other mode of solving this difficulty. We have not been able to adopt his method, though I thoroughly appreciate the side of the question he puts before us. But the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in implying that we have any hostility whatever to small ownership, or that we have done anything hostile to it. If we have not extended the facilities already enjoyed, it is because we have thought that the other method of proceeding was preferable. Next we heard from the Loader of the Opposition a most interesting, luminous, and instructive prelection on the philosophy that underlies the development of industries and agriculture in this country, their relative position to each other, the policy which ought to be pursued with regard to them, and the degree of danger that might arise from too great favour being shown either to the one or to the other. The speech, however, had no immediate bearing on the details of the Bill with which we are now dealing. Then, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon, who speaks on this subject with great authority, devoted himself almost entirely to a disquisition on our new rules of procedure, and especially on the iniquities of the Government. But there again he did not throw much light on the nature, bearing, intentions, and probable effects of the Bill. I am ready to take all the rebukes administered to me by the right hon. Gentleman in respect of my iniquities concerning the "guillotine" and other things; but I believe he has overstated the position as to the Bill. The measure was exceedingly well discusses in Committee, largely owing to the co-operation of the right hon. Gentle man himself. The closure was never once applied in the course of the discussion; it was really a complete and adequate discussion; and so far that was to the good. Then when it came back here, a certain constraint had to be put on the energies of my hon. friends in regard to subsequent proceedings. But all these criticisms as to the way in which the Bill has or has not been adequately discussed leaves the real substance of the Bill untouched. I therefore wish to say a few words on that aspect of the subject. The first thing that occurs to me is this—that it is almost startling how we stand in this matter to-day compared with our position two years ago. Two years ago we had nothing but expectations and hopes to dangle before the world. Now we are about to pass the most ambitious and the greatest reform, or the greatest change at all events, in the agricultural system of the country that any Government has put forward for many years. I think that we should have been able to bring forward a Bill of that scope, and that large character, and at the same time secure for it, not by any effort of our own, but by the force of public opinion, a Second Reading without a division, a fair and reasonable discussion in Committee, and now, probably, a Third Reading without a division [cry of "No "]—well, it does not look as if it would be a very lively and active opposition. Their is a peculiar melancholy good nature prevailing, which, I suppose, is due to the period of the session, to the condition of members, and perhaps to the expectations that are before them away from this House. But whatever the reason may be, I do not think that there is much fight in the opposition to the third reading of the Bill. Let the House consider what that means compared with where we stood two years ago. It is only eighteen months since we came into office, and we have been able to carry this Bill to this point, and that is something to have accomplished. Of course, we do not claim for a moment anything like completeness or finality for a Bill such as this. Legislation of this kind must be judged by its fruits. It is undoubtedly experimental, and if experience shows flaws they can be dealt with in due time. But what we claim is that a broad, bold, comprehensive scheme has been put forward for an urgent, vital national necessity. We often hear in these debates and elsewhere the English land system spoken of as a time-honoured system. Undoubtedly it is often forgotten that it is almost unique on the face of the earth. It does not exist in any other country. That alone is enough to make one pause a little. But when it is claimed for it that it has succeeded—and I am not blind to the many merits of that system—you must put it to the test; and when you consider its effect upon the tillers of the soil, I do not think that you can say that it has been as successful as is claimed. If you test it by the drain of population, by the poverty, by the emigration overseas, by the stagnation in many country districts, I think it is evident that there must be something wrong. I am afraid that the evils have been not only quantitative, but qualitative. It is the young and the enterprising who go, and the feeble and the less competent who stay; and there is a tendency, therefore, to impoverishment, both physical and moral. These evils, I think, are such that we must not expect that any scheme, however deftly constructed, and however hopeful its authors may be, can have very rapid effects. In many cases, I fear, in this country the labouring classes have ceased to believe that any betterment of their lot is to be brought about by any legislation such as this; and as for those qualities of self-reliance and independence and enterprise which are essential to the reconstruction of society, where reconstruction is required on a healthy basis, we must only hope that they will be recreated and built up again by the changes which we have proposed. What we have thought to be our duty from the first was not to effect these things—because we cannot profess to have that power—but to give an opportunity for their being effected. That much, at all events, we claim for this Bill. The needs of the people I cannot dwell on it too forcibly—are not to be estimated by imports and exports, but by distribution and physical condition; and even if it costs a good deal to benefit them by schemes such as this, it will be a good investment. What does this Bill do? It brings together local control and central control. It uses State credit and State initiative on the one hand, and local machinery on the other hand; and that I believe to be the very best arrangement that you can have. Voluntary and mutual effort is also enlisted in the shape of co-operative societies, without which the aim would not be easily attained. There has been one thing which has been much before the country in the last ten days, and on which I must say a word, and that is the apparent enormity of dealing in one way with Scotland and in another way with England; and though we are on the English Bill, it is just as relevant to prove that England differs from Scotland as to show that Scotland differs from England. I saw in a leading journal the other day a thing which made me smile. It said in a leading article—
Then it went on to say that the present Government was committed to the policy of Unionism. That seemed to me odd. What they meant was that something had been said about nothing being done in the nature of Home Rule during this Parliament. I never said it, if it has been said. Surely that does not make us Unionists, and we remain as strongly as ever in favour of the other mode of arranging matters. But putting that aside, there is this assertion that we ought not to differentiate between the two countries; and listening to the speeches that are made one would suppose that there is no difference in the sentiments and needs of the different parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland is subject to a different administration and to a different system of laws; and almost invariably is legislated for separately. Are we to be told that when the Irish Land Bill of 1881 was under discussion—the Bill of which the right hon. Gentleman has such a vivid recollection—it ought to have been applied to England? I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would go as far as that. The differences that we make are that in the case of England we enlist the co-operation of the local authorities, and in the case of Scotland we work from the centre. Purchase is the method in the one case, and hiring in the other. But these differences are not large. Scotland is already in possession of a going machine in the shape of small holdings worked from the centre and worked by hiring and not purchase, and with a Land Court to fix rents. It has had that for twenty-five years, and under that existing machinery there are some 20,000 small holdings. It was, therefore, the wisest thing to adopt that machinery that has worked so well and to extend it to other districts in Scotland, which are not in many cases so different from the original scene of operations. But in England we found no such machinery to our hand. We found a derelict Act under which 200 acres have passed to small cultivators, and we had, therefore, to construct new machinery. After all that has been said, that is the fundamental reason of the difference between the two Bills; and of the two Bills I can answer for it that the people of Scotland, who are in favour of this legislation at all, prefer the other Bill. I think it is desirable to bear that in mind when it is so often thrown at our heads that we are legislating on different principles in one country and the other. With regard to the tenure laid down under this Bill, there is no fixity technically, but in practice the tenant will get security. Instead of holding from private proprietors and being dependent on their good will, the cultivator will hold from a public authority and, subject to good cultivation and the payment of rent, there will be no motive or desire to prefer one tenant to another; and still less will there be any desire to move a man off the ground for any personal reason."The differentiation of Scotland from the remainder of the United Kingdom is inconsistent with the policy of Unionism."
There is no security in the Bill.
Yes. Here is a statement made by Lord Lansdowne in another place, which, though most Members know of it, it is not unprofitable to read again—
I have no desire to suggest any evil disposition or purpose, action or course of conduct, to the owners of the soil as a rule, but they are human, after all, and the right of selection of which Lord Lansdowne speaks naturally involves the right of removal. Over and above that, the tenants under this Bill will have all the advantages of the safeguards already in existence, including those under the Act of last year, which, I think, I heard complained of as excessive. Security, in fact, is the keynote of the Bill, and the keystone of the situation. Actual ownership, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley says, is preferable. Is it? What are its drawbacks? They are very obvious. The much larger capital expenditure, to begin with, acts as a bar. Then there is the question of mobility, and the third thing is the liability to get into debt and to fly to mortgage. When you talk of dual ownership of land I do not know what form of dual ownership can be compared for badness and mischief to the dual ownership of the owner and the mortgagee. As to the general mechanism of the Bill, I would only say this, that we think we have, by the ingenuity of my right hon. friend and his advisers, devised a system of transfer swift, inexpensive, and safe. The partnership established between the central and the local authorities which ensures against loss, is also an important point. The Government are most anxious for the co-operation of the county councils and believe it will be secured, but, on the other hand, it is impossible, in a question of such national moment, to leave the last word with them, and, therefore, large powers of initiative, of independent experiment, and, in the last resort, of action in default, have, necessarily, as I think, been vested in the central authority. What harm will this do to the farmers? I believe as a class they will benefit in many ways. They will have more labour, they will have openings for their own sons—not an inconsiderable boon—they will have the circulation of new blood and new ideas. And as to the landlords, they are guarded at every point so far as regards their pecuniary interest. I think we may congratulate the Party opposite on having accepted the principle which the Member for West Birmingham once spoke of as "that blessed word compulsion." I trust that they may see that it cannot be mischievous with reference to hiring if it is not so with regard to purchase. I cannot see that there is more original sin in the one process than in the other. Everyone knows that compulsion will very seldom be required, because there is plenty of laud availalble by voluntary action, but it is necessary to have compulsion in the background, in reserve, although in a vast number of cases voluntary action will suffice. That is all I have got to say as to the details of the Bill. We believe that this will not only be a step in the direction of progress, not only a long step towards better organisation, a more advanced development of our resources which we have on public platforms and elsewhere announced our intention of securing as far as we could. We hope to secure this, and, at the same time, we believe that a larger settlement on the soil will bring forth good fruit in the shape of healthier and sounder life in the rural community. These are objects which, experience tells us, cannot, in all probability, be obtained so long as the land is fenced off from the great majority of the inhabitants of the country districts, whose lot it has hitherto been to till the soil for the profit or pleasure of others. I hope I shall not be told that such a sentiment is equivalent to provoking or implying a war between classes. After all, there are worse things than a war between classes. An order of things in which one class regulates the life, apportions the toil, provides or assumes to provide, the homes, and, it may be, on occasion, the opinions of another class—that is a worse thing than a class war, and I believe that the present condition of our agrarian system is responsible for much of that class submission and subserviency and want of independence which undoubtedly exists. If anyone is so foolish as to fan the flame of class war, or to suppose that the reform of a particular system is an attack on persons, and can only succeed by fanning passion and prejudice, there is, amongst our countrymen, thank goodness, a fund of good sense, good nature, and good feeling which will speedily stop any tendency in that injurious direction. The danger of arousing strong and bitter feeling on this subject rests not with the Government nor with this House. The right hon. Gentleman, before he sat down, referred to the future career of this Bill in another place. It is necessary to say, and to say quite plainly, that a complex and nicely balanced mechanism, such as this measure, cannot be rudely altered in any of its parts without endangering the whole. The acceptance of any alterations calculated to impair the efficiency of the scheme will have this effect. This Bill has been conducted by my right hon. friend, not only with a conciliatory spirit and a charm of manner and an ability which we all admire, but also with a conspicuous desire to be perfectly fair to all parties; and in that sense, without derogating at all from its title to be called a bold and far-reaching Bill, it is a moderate Bill, and it offers no scope or margin for those operations with which we have become only too familiar. In saying this I am making no threat, nor am I addressing any appeal to the other House. I am simply stating an obvious fact. Great indeed will be the responsibility of that House if by any hasty, partisan, or interested action they derange this great instrument which has been devised and approved by the House of Commons for meeting one of the most urgent of the problems which our nation has to face."Surely what gives reality to ownership, what makes it a valuable and precious thing to many people, is that we have hitherto associated with it the power of guiding the destinies of the estate, of superintending its development and improvement, and, above all things, the right to select the persons to be associated with the proprietor in the cultivation of the soil."
said he wished to ask the Speaker's ruling on a point of order. He had not risen before because he did not wish to interrupt the right hon. Member. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted from a speech made by Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords in the last few days, but he found that the following rule still stood in the Manual of Procedure—
He asked the Speaker's ruling on this, because it seemed to him that if this were allowed it would grow to be regularly permitted and might be highly inconvenient in consequence."A Member while speaking on a question must not refer to any debate in the House of Lords."
The right hon. Gentleman has referred me to the rule set out in the Manual of Procedure of Public Business of the House of Commons." That rule to which he refers contains also the note—
In my view the rule stands thus: If an hon. Member enters into a controversy with regard to something that has been said in the other House, and endeavours to reply to a speech made in the other House, that would clearly be out of order, and very undesirable, because the noble Lord, not being present here, cannot answer or explain any quotation which may be made. But I do not think the rule can be carried out in its entirety, because it might, under certain circumstances, become not only very desirable but absolutely necessary to refer to a statement made in the other place—such as a statement upon some great question of policy or a statement by a Minister giving a concession with respect to a Bill. I think it would be mere pedantry on our part if we were to insist on closing our own mouths, so as not to be able to refer to that fact at all. Therefore we must observe a certain amount of elasticity and allow to the Chiar some discretion in administering the rule."It is not always easy to enforce this rule."
Question put and agreed to.
Bill read the third time and passed.