Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—( Earl Carrington.)
My Lords, on the Motion to go into Committee on this Bill I desire to put a question to the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture. Your Lordships may remember that on the Second Reading I criticised the Bill as an infringement of the Act of 1908. That Act was passed to give county councils compulsory powers to acquire land from large farms in order to make small holdings, but a provision was added that holdings of fifty acres or less in extent should be excluded and that county councils should not have power to take them. This Bill proposes to alter that entirely and to allow small holdings of any size to be taken by county councils. The noble Earl did not answer fully my criticisms on that point but stated that there had been instances where individuals had broken up farms of certain sizes and distributed the land amongst various relatives with the object of evading the provisions of the Act. I said at the time that I did not think a sufficient case had been made out for breaking into the Act of 1908 in the way proposed. Other noble Lords put questions to the noble Earl on the same point, and the noble Earl concluded the debate by saying—
I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he has since inquired into the matter and whether he can give us the categorical cases to which he referred in justification of this measure."I shall be prepared, of course, to substantiate my claim. I had a great, many other instances to give, but I did not wish to weary the House. I will do my best to adduce categorical cases, because the only object of this Bill is to remedy these cases of hardship."
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Marquess for raising this question, because it gives me an opportunity of stating my position as regards this Bill before we go into Committee. I am sure it is the desire of all of us on both sides of the House that the subsection in question, which provided that no holding of fifty acres or less in extent should be authorised by an Order under the Act to be acquired compulsorily for the purposes of small holdings and allotments, should work as was originally intended. I brought forward on the Second Reading an instance where the Act had been deliberately evaded by a person cutting up a large farm into small portions of under fifty acres and then letting them nominally to different people, the farm continuing to be cultivated by the same person, and I promised that I would do my best to bring other cases before your Lordships at a future stage. The case in Buckinghamshire, to which I referred, was a flagrant case. I have done the best I could to obtain information about other cases; but the House will see that as the procedure is ultra vires we are the last people to whom such cases would be referred. That they do exist there is no doubt, but we should be the last persons who would be able to obtain information direct.My object—and I am sure it is the object of noble Lords opposite—is simply to protect bona fide small holders in their occupations. That was the sole reason why I brought forward the Bill. As I said before, we have had three main difficulties. There was the question of by-takes—that was the first difficulty—in which a coach-and-four was driven through the Act. Then there was the question of the occupier, and we also had the difficulty of the subdivision to which the noble Marquess referred. But I do think, on reflection, that perhaps this Bill as originally introduced by myself went too far. My advisers thought it was the best way of dealing with the subject, but when it was inquired into and debated I recognised that perhaps the Bill might have been misunderstood. It might—I do not say it would—cause difficulties to a very worthy class of persons, and reasonable doubts were expressed that the rights of small holders might be jeopardised. I see that there are three or four Amendments on the Paper this afternoon. Those Amendments, I am certain, have been brought forward in the same spirit as that in which I introduced the Bill, and I want to be permitted to receive them in exactly the same spirit in which they are offered. I hope these few introductory remarks will be satisfactory to the noble Marquess, who has the same cause at heart as I have myself.
My Lords, when this Bill was last before the House I ventured to say that I opposed it because I felt that the small holders throughout the country who now enjoy the protection which the Act gives them ought not to be deprived of that protection because of an isolated case of evasion in Buckinghamshire. The noble Earl met that by saying he had a number of other cases with which he had not troubled the House. The noble Earl has now been challenged to produce those cases, but he has not up to the present moment added a single case to the isolated case which he gave us on the former occasion. He has, moreover, admitted that the Bill goes a great deal further even than the necessities of the case require, and that, in fact, the Bill is a bad Bill.
Well, a Bill that goes beyond the necessities of the case cannot be a good Bill. Whether that is so or not, I do not think the noble Earl has made out any case for this Bill. Therefore, speaking for myself, I shall certainly oppose the Bill unless there is a good deal more to be said for it than has been said already.
The noble Earl has so frankly admitted that he was misled as to the facts of the case that I am sure we on this side would be reluctant to press him too hardly. But I am extremely glad that the matter was taken up as it was, because this really is an object-lesson to us. It shows how a Bill of this kind can be put forward upon charges which I must say were of a somewhat odious nature, and which appear to be entirely without foundation. The House will remember that the noble Earl told us on the Second Reading that there had been a number of cases where the Act had been evaded by means of bogus sub-division. He mentioned the case in Buckinghamshire, and assured us that he was aware that a number of other cases were in existence. It now turns out that not a single other case can be produced, and the basis on which this Bill was brought forward crumbles away altogether. I think the noble Earl ought to be grateful to us for having put the matter in its full light before the House, and we shall now be able to discuss the Bill in Committee with some knowledge of the actual facts of the case.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
Repeal of 8 Edw. 7. c. 36. s. 41 (3).
1. Subsection (3) of section forty-one of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908 (which prohibits the compulsory acquisition for the purposes of small holdings or allotments of holdings of fifty acres or less in extent), is hereby repealed.
moved to leave out the last three words of the clause, "is hereby repealed," and to insert, "shall not apply to any holding which has been created since the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and seven by the sub-division of a larger holding where the occupier who was in occupation of such larger holding at the time of the sub-division remains in occupation of any holding created by the subdivision aforesaid."
The noble Duke said: I am very much encouraged by what fell from the noble Earl just now to hope that he will be willing to accept my Amendment, because he told us that all he wanted was to do that which the original Act intended to carry out. Now the original Act defended the position of the landowner as well as that of the small occupier, but the Bill which is now before us does nothing of the kind, nor, as far as I have been able to follow it, does the Amendment standing on the Paper in the name of the noble Earl (Lord Carrington). I have drafted my Amendment in the hope that it might do something, although I am afraid it is not a complete protection, towards protecting not only the occupier but also the landowner, and in saying this I should like to emphasise what it is that we want to protect both the landowner and the occupier from. There is a strong desire on the part of county councils to multiply the number of small holdings, and where they, knowing the local circumstances, find it difficult to do so, the Board of Agriculture puts every kind of pressure upon them to exert themselves to discover people who want small holdings and then to discover small holdings for those people. Cases where the landowner has abused his power—if abuse of power it be, and I use the expression for the moment because that is the view which the noble Earl takes of the proceeding—have dwindled to next to nothing. I do not think I need add anything after what has fallen from the noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench with regard to this point, except to say that it seems to me very novel and rather disgraceful that a Minister of the Crown should come forward and tell us that there is a state of things serious enough to require legislation and then to tell us that the state of things is such that it cannot possibly come to his knowledge. Therefore it is only supposition and hearsay that we have to go upon. I have never before heard a Minister of the Crown submit a Bill with such a recommendation. Consequently it seems to me all the more necessary that we should guard against the innumerable cases of hardship that would accrue under this Bill owing to the pressure put upon county councils and the activities of county councils themselves in this matter.
Page 1, line 8, leave out ("is hereby repealed") and insert ("shall not apply to any holding which has been created since the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and seven by the subdivision of a larger holding where the occupier who was in occupation of such larger holding at the time of the sub-division remains in occupation of any holding created by the sub-division aforesaid."—(The Duke of Northumberland.)
The noble Duke in this Amendment seeks to provide that the powers conferred on a county council for compulsory acquisition of land under the Act shall not apply to any holding which has been created since December 31, 1907, by the sub-division of a larger holding where the occupier who was in occupation of such larger holding at the time of the sub-division remains in occupation of any holding created by the sub-division aforesaid. I was glad to hear the noble Duke say that it was the desire of county councils to multiply small holdings and allotments, and I would take this opportunity of thanking the noble Duke for the assistance he has given to my Department in connection with farms in Northumberland which he has been good enough to offer for small holdings. But I must take exception to the language he used when he said that my action in coming forward with this Bill was disgraceful. What I said was that a coach-and-four had been driven through the Act to my certain knowledge. I quoted to the House one case, and I stated that I believed there were many similar cases in the country. Perhaps I ought not to have said that. It was, however, my firm belief, and I have no doubt in my own mind that other similar cases do exist though I confess I am not able to bring them before the House.There is no doubt that subsection (3) of Section 41 of the Act of 1908, which subsection I desire to repeal by this Bill, has proved an obstacle in three respects which were not anticipated. The first obstacle is this—it prevents the acquisition of the small by-takes held in conjunction with large farms under separate tenancies. Secondly, it prevents the acquisition of small holdings and allotments held by tenants under notice to quit where such acquisition is desirable to protect such tenants from disturbance. Lastly, it enables landowners to evade the operations of the Act by the division of a large farm into several small holdings under fifty acres still cultivated by the one farmer. I have given an instance where that has been done, and I think we ought to make it impossible for a sub-division to be made in those circumstances. The noble Duke's Amendment is not very easy to understand. I will state what I understand it to be, and the noble Duke will correct me if I am wrong. I understand it to be this, that so long as the occupier at the time of the sub-division remains in occupation of any part of the original big farm the county council can make use of the compulsory powers to acquire his holding or any portion of the holding, but the instant that that man dies or gives up his farm or goes out of his holding the powers of the county council lapse, and none of the lettings of fifty acres on any farm, some of which may be bogus, can be interfered with. I really do not think that that would be a very desirable Amendment to put into my Bill, bad as my noble friend below the Gangway (Lord Heneage) was good enough to describe it. I quite agree that the object which the noble Duke has in view is a good one, but it seems to me a very ineffective way of dealing with one only of the three defects which I think I have the sympathy of the House in trying to remedy. What we wish to make plain is this. If a man cultivates fifty acres or less, I think the House will agree that he is entitled to protection from compulsory acquisition; but if he cultivates more than fifty acres he is not entitled to that protection, and to endeavour to make that as plain as I possibly can I have withdrawn my original proposal and in substitution for it I have an Amendment on the Paper which I will explain when it comes to my turn to move it. Lord Clinton has put down an Amendment to my Amendment, and I would be prepared to accept the noble Lord's Amendment with a slight modification. I sincerely hope, if I have made myself intelligible, that the noble Duke opposite will not press his Amendment. If he does it will entirely wreck my hope of settling this vexed question. I respectfully hope, as I have said, that the noble Duke will not press his Amendment, but will allow the House to consider my Amendment in conjunction with Lord Clinton's Amendment, which as I have indicated I shall be happy to some extent to accept.
The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture seems to have taken to heart the expression of my noble friend (the Duke of Northumberland) behind me, but I would point out that the noble Earl has not produced the further cases which he promised he would produce. I am considerably disappointed at that. I read out to the House a little while ago the promise of the noble Earl that he would produce to the House categorical cases to justify this Bill, but he has not produced a single additional case. I venture to say that if the noble Earl had told us on the Second Reading that he had only the one case, the case in Buckinghamshire, to produce, your Lordships would not have given a Second Reading to the Bill. There are a great number of small holders who view this Bill with apprehension. They have relied on the security of subsection (3) which was moved by Mr. Harcourt. They now recognise, however, that the Board of Agriculture, with an officiousness which was unnecessary, has appointed a number of highly-paid officials to, as was vulgarly said by one member of His Majesty's Government, "ginger" county councils in this matter. Before your Lordships agree to pass this measure as it stands we ought to have some assurance that these small holders will not be ill-treated.
The Amendment we are discussing is really the Duke of Northumberland's Amendment, but as the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has referred to his own Amendment, perhaps he will answer this question. What is the difference between the Amendment standing in his name on the Paper and the provision in the Act of 1908 as it stands? I have read his Amendment over and over again, and it appears to me to be the same as the provision in the Act of 1908 in different words. If there is any difference I should like to know what it is.
I do not in the least complain of what has been said about my mistake, but I do think the use of the word "disgraceful" is, to say the least of it, a little bit far fetched, and goes beyond what the circumstances of the case justify. In answer to Lord Heneage I can say that the Amendment standing in my name is worded in the best possible language that a very eminent member of the legal profession could put together to prevent a repetition of the difficulties to which I have referred. If the noble Duke will very generously not press his Amendment, then we shall be able to get on to my Amendment. I would then be able in a few words to explain to my noble friend what it really means, and I think we should come to a reasonable and proper solution of this difficulty.
I hope we may nave some clearer explanation from the noble Earl than we have had as to what he really wants to do by this Bill. The provision he desires to repeal runs as follows—
There is nothing there about value. It is purely area. The noble Earl wants to repeal that subsection, and in place of it he now proposes in the Amendment standing in his name on the Paper that the limit should be fifty acres, as is already the fact, and "where it exceeds that area if the annual value thereof for the purposes of Income Tax does not exceed £50." That addition may be perfectly right, but does the noble Earl mean to give value as a test as well as area? And how far does he mean to go towards meeting the views of Lord Clinton, who would allow an individual to occupy two holdings provided that taken together they were not more than 75 acres in area or more than £75 in value? I confess I am not quite convinced that there is any need for legislation at all."No holding of fifty acres or less in extent or any part of such holding shall be authorised by an Order under this Act to be acquired compulsorily for the purpose of small holdings and allotments."
Are we not on the Duke of Northumberland's Amendment, and would it not be well to settle that first?
The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has appealed to my generosity. So great is the fund of generosity I possess that I believe it is equal to my withdrawing my Amendment. I will even go further and withdraw the term "disgraceful" if it hurts the noble Earl.
Thank you very much.
But if I were to tell your Lordships that I knew the noble Earl had once been overtaken in some fault, and that I knew he had been guilty of it very often but I could not prove it, I think he would say it was a disgraceful accusation. I withdraw my Amendment because I admit the situation is one very difficult to cover. There has been considerable difficulty experienced in drawing up this Amendment, and it is possible that it does not cover the whole ground. I am not sure that any Amendment which could be drawn would adequately protect owner and occupier from hardship. It has really been proved that there is no reason at all for this Bill, and I hope it will be rejected. The noble Earl stated that we all have the same object in view, but he has never said one word about protecting the owner of the property as distinguished from the occupier. Although I am willing to withdraw my Amendment at this stage, I reserve to myself the right to bring forward an Amendment of the same kind at the next stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
then moved to substitute for subsection (3) of Section 41 of the original Act the following new subsection:—"(3) The powers conferred on a council by an Order for the compulsory acquisition of land under this Act shall not authorise the council to acquire or extinguish the interest of any person in land comprised in the Order and cultivated by him, if the total area, including such land, cultivated by him does not exceed 50 acres, nor where it exceeds that area if the annual value thereof for the purposes of Income Tax does not exceed £50."
The noble Earl said: This Amendment makes it absolutely impossible for a man who cultivates fifty acres or less to be interfered with in any circumstances. I am informed on the best authority that that would be, the practical result of this Amendment Lord Clinton, in his Amendment to my Amendment, suggests that the acreage should be raised to seventy-five acres, and the value, of course, in proportion. I think he is asking a little too much; but if the noble Lord would consent to make it sixty acres I would accept his Amendment.
Page 1, line 8, after ("repealed") insert ("and in lieu thereof the following subsection shall be substituted—
"(3) The powers conferred on a council by an order for the compulsory acquisition of land under this Act shrill not authorise the council to acquire or extinguish the interest of any person in land comprised in the order and cultivated by him, if the total area, including such land, cultivated by him does not exceed fifty acres, nor where it exceeds that area if the annual value thereof for the purposes of income tax does not exceed fifty pounds").—(Earl Carrington.)
We are still somewhat puzzled as to the policy of the noble Earl. Let me remind the House what the condition of the present law is. Under the present law the holder of a farm under fifty acres in extent is immune from all interference by the Small Holdings Commissioners. The noble Earl does not wish to disturb that arrangement, but he introduced a Bill the avowed intention of which was to throw these small holdings open so that the small holder would no longer enjoy that immunity and might have a part of his small holding taken away from him in order to create a small holding for someone else. But now I understand that the noble Earl is ready to abandon his original proposal. Now his intention is not to deprive a small owner of his immunity but to increase that immunity, because if the Income Tax valuation of his holding happens to be less than £50 he gets a second dose of protection. The noble Earl appears now in a very different rôle from that in which he appeared when he presented this Bill to the House, and we want to be quite clear that we are under no misapprehension on that point.
We understood that this Bill was introduced to meet a largo number of cases of evasion, but those cases have now been boiled down to the single case in Buckinghamshire. As the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition said, the noble Earl began by proposing to do away altogether with the immunity which small holders enjoy. He now proposes to increase it. May I ask him what would happen in regard to the odious case in Buckinghamshire? In fact, the noble Earl has really boxed the compass, and I submit to your Lordships that this Bill ought not to proceed. The noble Earl has abandoned his case altogether and taken up quite a different case. The moment we on this side of the House saw this Bill we asked ourselves why in the world the Government proposed to do away with the exemption which they had so carefully given in their Act. They now propose to increase the immunity. Surely the noble Earl must see the absurdity of this proposal, and he must not be at all surprised if at some future stage of the Bill a Motion is made to stop the Bill, because it is quite patent that this legislation as now proposed is merely for the purpose of saving the noble Earl's face and for no other purpose whatsoever.
moved to amend Earl Carrington's Amendment by omitting the words at the end after "50 acres" and inserting "in one holding, or 75 acres in two or more holdings; nor where they exceed those areas if the annual value for purposes of Income Tax does not exceed £50 or £75 respectively."
The noble Lord said: The noble Earl has told us that under his Amendment every small holder of fifty acres will be quite as safe as he was before, but I am very doubtful if that will be the result of his Amendment. If your Lordships will read it carefully, you will see that it provides that an Order for the compulsory acquisition of land under the Act shall not authorise the council to acquire or extinguish the interest of any person in land comprised in the Order and cultivated by him if the total area, including such land cultivated by him, does not exceed fifty acres, and so on. But while that Order may not be put in force against him, yet there is nothing to prevent the Order being made. Apparently an Order can be made for the compulsory purchase of the I small holding, and it is quite obvious that if the holding has been compulsorily purchased and the council or the Commissioners or whoever it may be get into possession of the land they will exercise full right of ownership over the land and get rid of the tenant. If a county council have a passionate desire for a piece of land it is obvious that they will use their compulsory powers under this Amendment to acquire the land, and having got it into their own hands will split it up for small holdings. We really ought to go back to the older exemption which kepi the small holder safe. I heard with pleasure the statement of the noble Earl that he is willing to accept some part of the Amendment standing in my name on the Paper, but that does not wholly do away with my objection to the noble Earl's Amendment as it is drawn, because I still say that it does take away the proper exemption from the small holder which it was the policy of the Act which the noble Earl himself passed to give him. Under the noble Earl's Amendment that protection is very largely taken away. I suggest that we should put in the extra exemption suggested in my Amendment so as to protect the small holder who is progressing and probably on the up grade. As I say, I am glad that the noble Earl will accept my Amendment, but at the same time I object to his Amendment as it stands because it does take away from the small holder the protection which the Act originally gave him.
To amend the Amendment as follows—
Line 8, leave out from ("acres") to the end of the subsection and insert ("in one holding or seventy-five acres in two or more holdings; nor where they exceed those areas if the annual value for the purposes of income tax does not exceed fifty pounds or seventy-five pounds respectively"). —(Lord Clinton.)
I will accept the Amendment if the noble Lord will take sixty.
It is seventy-five for which I ask.
Well, will the noble Lord take sixty?
Very well. I amend my Amendment accordingly.
On Question, Amendment to the Amendment, agreed to.
My Lords, I take exception to the noble Earl's Amendment as amended being added to the Bill because the little difference there is between this and the Act itself will render the Bill an absolute absurdity. The Bill ought to carry out, if it was thought necessary that it should be introduced, the original purpose of the Bill. To simply put the old words of the Act back again with a slight difference is to render the Bill an entire absurdity.
Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
Remaining clause agreed to.
An Act to repeal Subsection (3) of Section Forty-one of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908.
moved to omit the word "repeal" and substitute "amend."
Leave out ("repeal") and insert ("amend").—(The Duke of Northumberland.)
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
The Report of Amendments to be received on Thursday next, and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 146.)