*MR. VAUGHAN DAVIES (Cardiganshire)
proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." He said that he wished the House to understand that in doing so he was not going to break through any of the ancient traditions which that Assembly so safely guarded. The House had already approved of the principle of separate legislation for Wales in connection with the Welsh Sunday Closing Bill, the Welsh Intermediate Education Bill, and the Bill for the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church had been read a Second time. The same principle had also been acted upon in the case of the Welsh Land Commission, which had been appointed to inquire into the conditions of land tenure in that country. In bringing forward this Measure he desired that it should be thoroughly understood that he was actuated by no political object, and had not adopted that course for Party purposes. It had been asserted that the Measure had been promoted with the object of getting up an agitation in Wales, but that was not the fact. This important question had been before the Welsh people for the last 25 years. In 1883 the North Wales Property Defence Association had passed a, Resolution declaring that the time had arrived when a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the incidence of land tenure in Wales, but that Resolution was not acted upon until 1893, when such a Commission was appointed by Mr. Gladstone's Government. There could be no doubt that land hunger had taken a strong hold upon the people of Wales, as was clearly shown by the evidence that818
had been given before the Welsh Land Commission. Why was it that the people of Wales had got into their minds such a strong longing for the land? In endeavouring to answer that question they must remember that there were at the present time 500,000 people in Wales who could not speak the English language; and being, therefore, debarred from obtaining employment in England, were compelled to engage in agriculture in their own country. Another consideration was that in Wales there were only 3,000,000 of acres of land available for cultivation, which gave an average of less than 50 acres for each of the 65,000 Welsh agriculturists. Welshmen were undoubtedly influenced by a strong love of country, but it was only through their determination to work and to live harder than the English labourers that the Welsh agriculturists were able to pay their way. He was most anxious to do full justice to the Welsh landlords, but even they would admit that the agricultural land in Wales was too highly rented, and that this was the case was proved by the fact that at rent audit day they almost invariably returned to the tenants from 5 to 15 per cent. of the rent. This reduction of rent was carried out upon no regular system, and, therefore, the farmers never knew really how much rent they would be called upon to pay; and they had to live upon the good will of their landlords. Another subject that largely affected the Welsh tenant farmers was the way in which notices to quit were served upon them. In 1868 these notices fell upon the tenants like a shower of snow simply for political reasons. The tenants were, moreover, subject to receive these notices merely upon the ground that their landlord's gamekeeper had alleged that they had shot a rabbit or a cock pheasant. How could farmers be expected to cultivate their farms properly in such circumstances as that. [" Hear, hear! "] Within the last year or so they had had another illustration of the manner in which Welsh landlords used this power of eviction. It was well known that farmers who had given evidence before the Welsh Land Commission had been turned out of their farms in consequence of their having done so, and yet no landlord had been prosecuted for taking such a step, although the Act under which the RoyalCommission was appointed imposed a fine of £100 or three months' imprisonment upon any landlord who evicted his tenant for such a reason. The only way to protect the Welsh tenant was to establish a Welsh Land Court which would be able to give the tenants security of tenure and compensation for improvements. It was no use to trust to voluntary action in reference to the land question in Wales, and any legislation on the subject must be of a compulsory character. He maintained that all Voluntary Laws were rotten. It was useless to talk to Welshmen, of voluntary laws or boards of conciliation after the rebuff the President of the Board of Trade received in the case of the North Wales quarrymen. If conciliation failed in such a matter as that it would fail also in reference to landlords and tenant farmers. Welshmen believed that nothing short of a Land Court with compulsory powers would ever do any good. It was proposed to construct such a Court on the lines of the County Court, for the sake of economy. There they would have all the machinery ready to hand, except that instead of the judge being a lawyer, he would be an agricultural judge appointed and paid by the Board of Agriculture, from a list of names supplied by each County Council. His suspension or removal was to be at the discretion of the Department, which he hoped was sufficient proof of the desire of the promoters of the Bill to keep him free from all outside pressure. The decisions of the agricultural judge were to be final, except in points of law, which would be referred to the County Court Judge, whoso decision would be final. Each Court was to keep a tenant holdings' book, in which every judgment and order of the Court was to be recorded, as well as the state of the farm when taken over, and the improvements done by the landlord, and every tenant after the passing of the Bill would become a judicial tenant, neither party having power to contract out of the Bill. The Board of Agriculture would determine the district of the Court in which each agricultural judge should act. Then came the very important question of rent. Under the present system farmers bid recklessly against one another, knowing full well they could not pay the rent they offered, and simply hoping they would get a reduction from the landlord. Itwas proposed, therefore, that the agricultural judge should go over the farm and place a rent upon it which would have to be paid within a month of its becoming due, and which would remain in force for a term of five years, and would continue in force after the expiration of the term unless a fresh application were made by either party. Then came a question of immense importance, the question of agreements. Lender the Bill it was proposed to give the farmer a free hand to farm as he liked and sell what he liked, so long as he returned sufficient manure on the land. In his evidence before the Commission Major Birch said:—I would not be interfered with as regards any course of cropping. I am speaking as a practical farmer now. I would not sign an agreement that interfered with me, if I did not know it was going to be a dead letter.The agent of the Bodorgan estates, referring to the oppressive clauses in his own agreements, said they were never used, and might as well go out. They were only incumbrances. Mr. Wynn, late agent of the Wynnstay Estates, said:—There is not an agreement on any estate in the country, I think, which cannot be remodelled, I think, to a very great advantage; and if I were to take up an agency again, I believe I could write a perfectly satisfactory agreement on a sheet of notepaper.So under the Bill all those silly clauses would be done away with. ["Hear, hear!"] It was, however, desired to leave a certain amount of freedom of contract under the Bill, and power would be reserved to the landlord and tenant to come to a mutual, reasonable agreement. Such an agreement would, however, have to be recorded in the tenants' holding book, and would become a judicial tenancy as if ordered by the Court. He now came to the question of improvements. Under the present law it was next to impossible for the tenant to get them allowed. It was too expensive a process for him. Under this Bill the matter would be settled by the Agricultural Court on easy and inexpensive terms. In the same way the landlord's right to dilapidations would be equally guarded, and he would also have the right to acquire land for building cottages, for gardens, planting and working materials, with, of course, proper reductions of rent. ["Hear, hear!"] Thelandowner would also have the right to take into his own hands or to put into the hands of one of his family, a farm for permanent occupation, paying the outgoing tenant for all his improvements, and for disturbance; and to prevent fraud, the landowner or his relative would have to live on the farm for three years or pay double compensation to the tenant turned out. ["Hear, hear!"] His aim and object in the introduction of the Bill had been to try and deal honestly and fairly between landlord and tenant, and to place the farmers of Wales on a more honourable and secure footing than they now held. He begged to move the Second Reading of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]
*MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea Boroughs)
supported the Motion. He desired to call the attention of the House to the special circumstances in regard to land tenure in Wales, as a very different condition of things existed in the Principality from that which existed in most of the English counties. The Bill did not propose to create any tenant right that did not already exist. It did not give to the tenant of the holdings to which the Bill applied the right of free sale, and they asserted, therefore, that no part of the capital value of the land, or of any capital expended by the landlord in improving the land, was under the operation of this Bill transferred from the landlord's pocket to the tenant's pocket. This Welsh land question was no new thing. There had never been a more fallacious notion propagated by the Press of this country, or advocated by Party politicians, than the notion that the Welsh land question was a mere Party political agitation in servile imitation of the Irish action. ["Hear, hear!"] The Commission had reported unanimously combined with the English system of land tenure, tenure from year to year, combined with the English system of estate management had been in vogue there had been the gravest dissatisfaction among the Welsh people. More than 50 years ago, at the time of the civil disturbances known as the Rebecca riots, the very same demand for fair rents on their holdings was advanced by the peasants and farmers as was advanced now. The prevalent tenure of agricultural land in Wales had worked, with gross injustice to the tenant farmers, and
had created a substantial grievance which could only be remedied by legislation on some such lines as they now proposed. The operation of this system of land tenure had resulted in an unjustifiable increase of rent, and an unfair division of the profits of the agricultural industry which was carried on jointly by landlord and tenant. It had had the effect of confiscating the improvements made by the labour and capital of the tenants and their ancestors on some holdings; it had hampered the industry by the imposition of unreasonable conditions; and had materially disturbed the happiness and peace of the Welsh peasantry. The actual nature of the system was too well known in that House to need more than a passing reference. Nearly the whole of Wales was now under cultivation, and, the system of estate management was more or less that adopted in the English counties. The landlord was supposed to—and in many cases did—make the permanent improvements and the more important repairs, while the tenant stocked the farm and supplied the necessary capital and labour for working it. It was not until the end of the last century that this system of estate management and of tenure from year to year began to become prevalent in the Principality. Nearly 90 per cent, of the occupiers of the soil were tenants from year to year. He attacked the whole system of land tenure as it existed in Wales. The first and most noticeable thing was the comparative smallness of the holdings. The holdings from 20 to 50 acres were 20'48 in Wales as compared with l4'74 per cent, in England. The holdings from 50 to 100 acres were 16'69 per cent. in Wales as compared with 10'82 per cent, in England. In Wales, moreover, the holdings went down as low as from three to five acres. Then the next point was the smallness of the Welsh farmers' labour bill, the proportion of in-door to out-door labour being much greater in Wales than in England. The typical Welsh farmer worked with his labourers, and depended also very largely on the labour of his wife, and even of his young children, who ought to be at school. The whole organisation of the farm had a family character. In one case the Commission found that a grandfather, a son and his wife, three grandsons, and severalgreat-
grandchildren, were living on one small farm. Another noticeable point was the almost insatiable land hunger which existed in Wales. This feeling was not only prompted by the desire to carry on farming avocations, but by the passionate attachment of the Welsh people to the soil on which their forefathers had lived for generations. That was an element which any sound statesmanship must take into account. The Commission unanimously reported that derelict farms were unknown in Wales. There was practically no land that was cultivable that could not be let, but, on the other hand, holdings that were really not worth cultivating existed in great numbers. Colonel Hughes, the agent for the Wynnstay estate, in giving evidence before the Commission, referred sympathetically to the struggles of the farmers on such holdings. He would have left this matter there but for the fact that the hon. Member for Shropshire had in a recent Debate denied the existence of this land hunger. The fact was that even since the depression, set in there was no lack of demand for Welsh farms. He might give many instances but would take a few. The agent of Lord Kenyon's estate in Shropshire said that he had on his books at the time he was giving evidence between 30 and 40 names of eligible men willing to take any farm on the estate. Sir Joseph Bailey told them that in 1893, the period of acute agricultural depression, he had 20 applications for a vacant farm in Brecknockshire, and it was also shown that for a farm near Cowbridge, in Glamorganshire, which recently fell vacant, there were 24 applications. For a farm in Cardiganshire there were 59 or 60 applications. Another remarkable economic fact in regard to the land of Wales was the long duration of tenancies, or, in other words, the hereditary character of the connection of particular families with the same holding. In listening to the many witnesses before the Commission, nothing struck him more than the testimony in that regard. The Wynnstay estate consisted of several parcels of land whichwere divided into five or six separate estates. On one estate there were two farms which had been in the same holding for 400 years; five farms for between 300 and 400 years; three from 150 to 250 years. That gave an average in the ten cases of 286 years. On another estate nine farms had been in the same holding for between 100 and 200 years; five for between 200 and 300 years; and one for 400 years. It was credibly believed that one farm had been in the occupation of one family for about 1,000 years. [Cheers.] That statement was cheered, but the explanation was that down to the end of the last century the relations between landlord and tenant were those of customary tenure, and not of competitive tenure, and that the moment the latter system came into operation, there were continual changes in the tenancies. There was, for instance, one old estate which presented precisely the same phenomena as the Wynnstay estate. It changed hands about 20 years ago. The purchaser, who paid about £36,000 for the estate, was a humane man; he intended to do his best by the tenantry, and he spent his money freely in making improvements. The estate consisted of 25 farms. Twenty years ago 25 Welsh families lived on the estate, but now there were only four of the original tenants. The next thing he would like to mention as a peculiarity of Wales was that, owing to historic circumstances into which he could not go very minutely now, a very much larger share—an exceptionally large share—of the improvements made upon the holdings had been made by the expenditure of the capital of the tenant rather than of the landlord. Since the beginning of this century, the English system of management had gradually come into operation, but it was an odd thing that quite recently the tenants from year to year in Anglesey were found making permanent improvements. In its operation the system prevailing in Wales had resulted in large and continuous raising of rent by means of revaluations, in which the tenants' share of the improvements had been ignored, or by actual evictions or voluntary withdrawals without adequate compensation. Some years ago, when his hon. Friend the Member for Merionethshire introduced his Billrelating to Welsh, land, considerable controversy arose as to the question of increase of rent. All the difficulties had now been cleared away, as the figures had been ascertained. The first time that the income tax was levied upon the rental of real property was 1814–15. Comparing the returns under Schedule A for that year and for the different decades from 1842–43 down to the present time, he found that in the case of the county of Anglesey the gross rents of agricultural land had increased by 142'8 per cent. The figures did not relate to houses or tenements, or to any holding of less than two acres. In Carnarvonshire the increase amounted to 101'3; in Merionethshire to 73'9; in Pembrokeshire to 93'1 per cent., and in Radnorshire to 63'4 per cent. In Wales, excluding Monmouthshire, generally, the increase was 66'9 per cent., and in Wales and Monmouthshire 63'2 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that for the same land, or for an additional quantity of land?"] If additional land had been brought into cultivation that might account for the rent going up; some allowance would have to be made. Their proposition was that there had been a very large and a very unfair increase of rent; that it involved the exploiting of the tenant farmer by the landlord's monopoly, and that the rent paid did not represent what would be the true rent, if an economic account were taken on a proper basis, between the landlord and the tenant. The next point was that those rents had gone on continually increasing from 1814–15 up to 1882–83. As might have been expected, from the fact that the great agricultural depression made itself felt a little later than in England, about 1880–81 there came a fall in the returns under Schedule A for 1882–83. The fall for the decade 1882–83 to 1892–93 in the whole of Wales, as distinct from Monmouthshire, was only 6'2, and in Wales and Monmouthshire 6.3, and, in comparison, he should like to say that, after the most minute investigation, the Commission came to the conclusion that, if they averaged the fall in prices over all the ordinary produce of Welsh farms, the fall from 1880 to 1893–94 was about 33 per cent. He asked the House to bear in mind how comparatively smallhad been the percentage of fall of gross rental as compared with the fall in prices. He also wanted to make one comparison between the reduction of rent, as it appeared on the basis of these tables, in England and in Wales. The Commission took nine counties which on the whole seemed most nearly to resemble the economic circumstances of the 13 counties of Wales. They found that, while in England rent had decreased, as judged by these returns, by 23'7 per cent, since 1879–80, when the depression made itself generally felt, in Wales and Monmouthshire the decrease had only been 7'1 per cent., showing that the abatements of the English landlords had been much more generous than the abatements of the Welsh landlords. Apart from the question of rent, which was practically at the root of the whole matter, there had been a good deal of virtual confiscation of improvements by revaluation. That was a practical point on which all the Commissioners were agreed. They found that the way in which, upon sale or succession, the holdings were revalued under the existing law was extremely unjust to the tenant. It might be asked why did not the tenants, when they received notice to quit at the time of a sale, come under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883; but here again their extreme land hunger and the temper of the people came into play. If they pursued that course, it would inevitably be taken by the agent of the estate, or by the agent of the new purchaser, as an indication that they wanted to leave the estate, or that they were a grumbling set of people whom it would be well to get rid of. There was one thing he ought to say of a general kind. The insecurity of tenure from year to year poisoned the whole life of the tenant farming class, and had a distinctly disastrous effect upon the general character of the people. They were so impressed with this, that they had actually found the tenants, apparently free men, were afraid to come before the Commission to give evidence. He was not going to say that there was any absolute justification for their fears. He believed that the Welsh tenants on the larger estates might have come forward without any fear of injury to their interests or of eviction, but the Commission found that the 13 counties they went into were permeatedwith this fear and suspicion of the landlord and the agent, and that operated in the most injurious way upon the peace and happiness of the tenant farming classes of Wales. He did not suppose it could be denied that there were grievances, and the question arose how were they to be remedied. Two remedies had been suggested. The first was the creation by a system of land purchase, on a considerable scale, of a peasant proprietary. The other was the regulation of the agricultural industry. He had come to the conclusion, after visiting these counties, that a man was very much better off as a tenant upon an estate, if he was only paying a fair rent and had reasonable security of tenure, than he was as an occupying freeholder. It seemed to him that most of the occupying freeholders of Wales had simply exchanged the sway of the landlord for the sway of the mortgagee, and he, for one, did not think the true solution for the difficulty was to be found in the creation of a peasant proprietary. He was firmly of opinion that the true and statesmanlike way of dealing with the question was to regulate the industry. He said "regulate the industry" advisedly, because there was no such great and essential difference between the operations of the agricultural industry and other industries. The same principles which had led Parliament to pass Acts for the protection of workers, like the Factory Acts, the Workshops Act, and the Coal Mines Regulation Act, really applied to landlord and tenant under this system. Landlord and tenant were partners, and the main gravamen that he made against this system, quite apart from the special circumstances of Wales, was that it inevitably tended to an unfair division of the profits between landlord and tenant. An eminent economist, the late Professor Walker, himself inclined to favour the principle of freedom of contract, had said:—Wherever there is a peasantry unfitted for competition upon commercial principles with a powerful and wealthy class under a painful pressure of population, there the regulation of the holding of land becomes a proper matter for State regulation.He claimed that the circumstances of Wales which he had mentioned disclosed a state of things that came
within that proposition. He claimed to have shown, upon indisputable facts, without raising any matters of unpleasant controversy in regard to any estate in Wales, that the condition of things there justified their demand for separate legislation. He should like the House to remember that the whole of the Land Commissioners, though their solutions were different, found that a case for separate legislation had been made out. But though they were asking for separate legislation for Wales, both upon economic and historic grounds, they were not demanding it in any separatist spirit. Their policy was a differential, and not a separatist policy. He was convinced it would be found that, whether this Bill passed or not, no part of the United Kingdom was more desirous of maintaining the strength of the great empire to which they belonged than the 13 counties with which he had been dealing. But they said they were entitled to have their particular characteristics observed. The farmhouses of Wales had been the nurseries of a gifted and sturdy race. The meaning of their Bill, imperfect though it might be, was that they were seriously asking the House to help them to keep the homes of the Welsh people for the Welsh people themselves. The strength of the Empire did not depend upon the uniformity of law. It depended upon the perpetuation of the race, upon a continuous line of capable and vigorous citizens, and what he claimed for the Bill was that that would be its effect, and that, if it were passed, the strength of the Empire would be largely maintained by the present tenant farmers of Wales and their descendants.
MR. POWLETT MILBANK (Radnor)
proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months." He claimed for himself and his Friends on the Government side of the House the same earnest desire to see the tenant farmers of Wales happy and prosperous as he gave hon. Members opposite credit for. Only they looked at the question from a different point of view. They did not wish separate legislation for Wales, and he did not see that any case had been shown, or any just demand made out, for a Bill to establish a Land Court for the Principality. The legislation on fair rent and Land Courts
for Ireland did not satisfy either side of the House, and the experiment would be equally unsatisfactory in the case of Wales. No warrant had been shown for the Bill from agricultural depression, which had been less severe in Wales than anywhere. From a Return showing the variation in the income tax valuation for the period 1879 to 1894 he found that reductions of 10 per cent, had been made in only eight counties of Wales, and reductions of over 10 and under 20 per cent, in two counties only. It was evident, therefore, that agricultural depression had not been felt so strongly in Wales as in England. Let him criticise the Bill itself for a few moments. First, as to the constitution of the Land Court. His hon. Friend explained that an agricultural Judge was to conduct the procedure of the Court in the same way as a County Court Judge. It was hardly possible he could do that, for in 99 cases out of a hundred he would have no legal knowledge, so that they would fail at once in the constitution of the Court. Then as to the appointment of the agricultural Judges. As he understood the Bill the Judges were to be recommended by the County Councils. He did not want to tread on delicate and dangerous ground, for he had to acknowledge the great moderation with which the Bill had been brought in and seconded. But most of the Welsh County Councils were—without using the term offensively—ultra-Radical, and it was only natural that their nominees, though excellent men, would be biassed by their political opinions. For his own part he certainly should not like to trust his interests in the hands of the gentlemen who would be appointed by the County Councils of Wales. Moreover, this provision would make County Council elections even more productive of bitter feeling than they had been. Then the Judges were required to speak Welsh. That would absolutely disqualify the whole of his constituency, because he did not believe there was a man in Radnorshire who spoke a solitary word of Welsh. [Laughter.] Further, the Judge must have a perfect knowledge of the district upon which he pronounced a decision. It was impossible, therefore, that they could have an agricultural Judge in his county. From the first letter of the Bill to the last, he disliked it thoroughly. [Welshcheers.] It was as well to be straightforward. ["Hear, hear!"] He took it that the effect of the clause empowering the Court to determine fair rent and conditions of tenancy would be to abolish all existing conditions of tenancy. That meant that property was to be no longer respected, and that two sensible men were to be no longer allowed to make an agreement with each other. It was almost saying that the landlord was screwing out the highest possible rent, or that the tenant was a fool who was not capable of managing his own affairs. The Bill would do no good, certainly not in the county in which he resided, and it would cause an enormous amount of ill-feeling between landlord and tenant. Of the provisions for recasting agreements, he approved; but it did not do much to encourage free contract. The Court might refuse to record the settlement; but while he should suppose it would never do that, they had the professional agitator sometimes even in Wales, and he was not likely to calmly look on and let landlord and tenant agree—he was sure to say the terms were unreasonable. He disliked the Bill for many reasons, but chiefly because it would destroy, or partly destroy, that good feeling which now existed between landlord and tenant. The Welsh landlords wished to see their tenantry prosperous, and as far as he know them—and he had had dealings with many of them—he had always found them deal in a most generous spirit, with all their tenants. As a rule they did the whole of the improvements. ["No!"| He was speaking of the ordinary landlord. No doubt in North Wales the tenants would do a lot of improvements themselves. ["Hear, hear!" from the WELSH MEMBERS.] He should not mind seeing the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 amended so as to absolutely compensate the tenant for everything he laid out on permanent improvements. That he was entirely in favour of; but he was not in favour of a Bill that provided a third party to step in and undo that friendly feeling which had always existed. The landlords at present took an interest in their property, but what would be the effect if they practically took the whole management of their property out of their hands? They would only look on the tenant as a sort of machine for paying rent on a certain day. Then as to thetenants. If they got settled for a term of five years, how about bad times? Would the tenants have to keep their farms in repair? ["Yes!"] As far as he knew the landlord at present did the whole of the repairs, but if the tenants had to do all repairs for the five years, they would be very little better off under fair rent than they were at this moment. He opposed the Bill, and moved that it be read that day six months, because he felt certain that it would cause great ill-feeling between landlord and tenant, because it did that it would cause great ill-feeling because it would do an excessive amount of harm. Although he would willingly support anything in the shape of ah Amendment of the Act of 1883, but this Bill it was impossible that he or any of his Friends should support.
SIR J. LLEWELYN (Swansea)
said the views of those who had spoken, for the Bill on the other side had been very temperately put before the House. It brought into the front the controversy that raged before the Land Commission in 1892–95. If hon. Gentlemen would take the trouble to read the long and interesting Report of that Commission, they would find that the principal difference between the majority and the minority of the Commissioners rested upon this very point—the question whether a Land Court was necessary or not. He for one should not be prepared to rest upon the present position of land tenure in Wales, because he thought that injustice had been done under it, and was likely to be continued unless a reform took place. But he held that a reform could be brought about by an amended Agricultural Holdings Act; and he thought it asine quâ non that this improvement of the Agricultural Holdings Act should be passed at the earliest possible moment. They had had a promise from Her Majesty's Government that some Amendment of the law should be submitted to the House which should apply to England as to Wales; and he would venture to ask the House to bear in mind the words used in the Report of the Commission, in regard to the question of separate legislation for Wales and England. What they said was this:—We had as Commissioners no right to pronounce on the question whether an amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 and of the law of landlord and tenant as to
agricultural holdings is required for England as well as Wales. It was not in our reference. But, without prejudice to the question, we think that the circumstances disclosed in regard to Wales by our inquiry urgently call for legislation such as we have above sketched.He did not intend to go back upon those words. If justice were not done to Wales by general legislation which should cover the whole of England and Wales he should then be quite prepared to support separate legislation for Wales. But how could he do this in face of the promise of the Government that the whole question should be considered as one case? He disliked separate treatment, and he thought that justice would be done to all sections in the country. In the very able and interesting speech delivered by the hon. Member for the Swansea District, they had been told that the principal differences between land tenure in Wales and England were first of all, the insatiable land hunger in Wales. He had himself been brought up from a child on landed property in Wales, and he knew what that land hunger was. If a farm were vacant he knew that in many places there would at once be a dozen applicants for it. But it had been almost the universal custom on the large estates of Wales for the tenants to occupy their farms from father to son, and there had rarely been anything in the way of an increase of rent when the occupation had been kept in the same family. In the case of a family becoming extinct—which was very rare—there was a large number of applicants for the vacant farm, and it was that which constituted land hunger. The conditions of various parts of Wales were so different that they could hardly treat those separate portions of the Principality on the same basis of equality without some consideration of the different conditions of tenure. They must deal with the strictly pastoral as compared with the agricultural parts of Wales in dealing with this question. The men throughout the whole of Wales were thrifty and hardworking, and he could not think they would like the suggestion of the hon. Member opposite who had recommended that the present system of payment of rent six months after date should be altered for a payment on the exact day that the amount fell due. The present custom had gone on from father to son, and he believed it was conceivedin its inception by considerations of the best interests of the tenants themselves. If tills Bill were carried, and the Land Court introduced, what would be the position of landlord and tenant? It seemed to him to follow as a matter of course that whichever of the two parties took the other into court, would do so at a time suited to his convenience. Hitherto the whole system of charging rents had been conducted by the persons who knew the circumstances best—namely, the land-lord and tenant, without the intervention of a third party; and the two main objects of desiring judicial rents fixed in Wales were shattered by the conditions of the Principality. The conditions in Wales were altogether different from those which prevailed in Ireland. In the Principality, for instance, the main repairs, the buildings, outbuildings, and everything that was necessary for the occupancy of the farm were paid for by the landlord, with the exception of a few notable instances, especially in Anglesey, the interests of which county he held ought to be, and could be, safeguarded by an Amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act. The other point, which differentiated Wales from Ireland, was that absenteeism was practically unknown in the former. Almost every landowner delighted to live among his tenantry, because of the good feeling which existed between landlord and tenant. He had a very strong impression that the introduction of a Land Court would destroy the good feeling between landlord and tenant. He did not wish to accentuate any difference of polities or religion in the controversy at all, and as some evidence had been quoted, he would quote the evidence of one witness who came before the Commission, that of Mr. Edward Davies, of Llandinam, who certainly, he believed, was neither a Tory nor a Churchman. He said that—self-help and self-reliance—which are in the powers of all—are more effective than any external aid by means of legislation or otherwise.Dealing with the question of a Land Court, Mr. Davies said:—With regard to the proposal to establish a Land Court, I am of opinion that with the friction, litigation, and worry which would unavoidably be connected with it, the result would tend to place land in a worse position than any ordinary commercial enterprise. The landlord would have to look mainly to thequestion of return for his capital, and as that would be periodically subject to depreciation from what he would consider an arbitrary valuation, without any adequate rule, basis, or standard to guide the valuer, he would necessarily confine his expenditure upon buildings and improvements to its narrowest limit.Further on Mr. Davies said that if a Land Court were established,Then the only tolerable alternative would be for the tenant to become sole owner, for rather than submit to an uncertain valuation, which may be unjust and arbitrary, I, as a landlord, would prefer the risks of selling my property.Mr. Davies was, he believed, one of the best landlords in Wales, but supposing that other landowners were to put their properties in the market in the same sense that Mr. Davies was prepared to recommend, there would be a widespread consternation throughout Wales, because the tenants with the freedom of contract which now obtained were much better off than they would be under any Land Court, and if they would take his advice they would keep clear of law and of lawyers. [Laughter.] It was far better for them whenever they found they could not pay their rent to go straight to their landlord, as they had done for generations and centuries past, and obtain a temporary or permanent reduction, than to go into Court, which would necessarily involve them in costs. He believed that the reason why the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 had been inoperative was because tenants had been afraid to go into Court, as they knew perfectly well that costs were involved by such a. procedure. They had in the past rested upon the good feeling which existed between landlord and tenant rather than resort to a proceeding which would inevitably result in legal expense. The Bill appeared to him to open a new way by which law costs would be incurred, and, while it might be food for the lawyers, it would be poison to the farmers.
*MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)
said that he supported the Second Reading of this Bill because he could see no other way of extricating Welsh farmers from the ruinous position in which they were placed. Their rents were far too high.835
Their capital had been almost exhausted by the vain attempt to pay these impossible rents, and the system of agriculture had deteriorated very much for want of farming capital and from the wretched system of yearly tenancy that prevailed. The Returns collected by the Land Commission showed conclusively how impossibly high the rents were. The rise of rents in all England from 1815 to 1893 was 16.3 per cent., but in Wales and Monmouthshire it was 63'2 per cent. The fall from the highest point of rent was 18 per cent, in England, and 6.3 per cent, in Wales and Monmouthshire. The real cause of this difference was not the character of the agriculture, but the land hunger in Wales, and the opportunity it gave of exacting unreasonable rents. There was a very close analogy between the condition of Welsh farming now, and that of Ireland before the Land Acts of Mr. Gladstone. The excessive competition for land in Ireland enabled the landlords to screw impossible rents out of the poor peasantry. So it was in Wales today. The absence of leases, or of security for tenants' improvements made good farming impossible in Ireland, and so it was in Wales to-day. The landlords in Ireland belonged to a different Church, and different side of politics from their tenants; so it was in Wales to-day The Welsh farmers were usually Nonconformists and Liberals; the landlords were Anglicans and Tories. There was incessant friction in Ireland, and a miserable social condition; it was less so in Wales, but still there was far too much of it. The elementary fact in both cases was that there was no security against excessive rents and capricious evictions in Wales any more than there was in Ireland, and as peace and contentment had been secured to Ireland by a system of judicial rents, so it would be in Wales. In support of these views he would quote from the Report of the Land Commission:—But though there are points of difference between the condition of Ireland and the condition of Wales, yet there are many points of resemblance. There is the same land hunger exhibited in almost, if not quite, as great a degree. There is the same attachment to the native land, and to the pursuit of farming under the same traditional conditions. There is much of the same divergence in temperament, idiosyncracy, and habits between the actual cultivators of the soil and the aristocratic class who own the land. There is the
same hostility, more veiled but not less felt, to the agents of the landlord. Religious and social differences between the cultivators and the owners are just as well marked in Wales as they were in Ireland, if, indeed, not more highly developed. There is the same fear among the tenants that they may be ousted from homes to which they are passionately attached. There is the same conviction that the pressure of legal rules and economic circumstances is depriving them unjustly of the fruits of their labour.He could assert from his knowledge of his own constituency that the farmers were being ground to death between the upper and nether millstones of excessive rents and excessive competition for land. In many cases the farmer and his whole family toiled on the land from early morn till dark, and earned far less than they could get as agricultural labourers; their food was very poor, they were poorly clad, and had no luxuries; and no class of people in Great Britain got so small a reward for their industry. Most farms were still held at the high rents of 20 years ago, with occasional rebates of 10 and sometimes of 15 per cent., which were already being reduced in proportion to the relief given by the Agricultural Rating Act of last year; but if the tenants were dealt with on the same plan as Irish tenants, the reductions would be not 10 or 15 per cent., but 40 per cent. He also advocated the change on social grounds. The very backbone of a country was its agricultural population. The true policy of any country should be to keep a large population on the land, and to encourage the best farming possible. The policy of this country had been just the opposite: hence the depletion of the agricultural population and the enormous increase of our cities. The greatest economical reform of the future would be that which would attract population to the soil and develop its resources to the largest extent possible. This policy should be applied to all parts of the United Kingdom; but at the present moment it was most imperatively demanded in Wales. They had the advantage of the Report of a Land Commission representing all classes, and the Government were asked to give effect to the Report of that Commission, which was embodied in the Bill now before the House. ["Hear, hear!"]
*MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said that as the hon. Member had no connection with Wales,
except political, he suggested that thin Bill was applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom. Then why was not the Bill brought forward for the whole of England? ["Hear, hear!"] He believed that he was the only man in the House who had read the Report of the Welsh Land Commission. [Cries of "No," and laughter.] At any rate, no one could could have read it who had not very ample leisure. It was a remarkable report written in seven languages—Greek, Latin, French, German, Ogmic, Celtic, and a little English. [Laughter.] And still the wonder grew, that nine small heads could carry all they knew. [Laughter.] The first recommendation was that Her Majesty should put the Record Office in order, although there was not a single manuscript in Welsh in that office. The next inquiry was whether there were Goidels in Wales, or whether there was a Pre-Goidelic nationality; a third question turned upon a point of comparative philology which was thus treated: The Goidelic for who is in Manx Gaelic quei, quoi,but in Welch pwy: compare Latin; qui, quis, Oscan. pis, accusative pim. Similarly the Goidelie forfive is in Manx queig, but in Welch pump (and pimp). Compare Latin quinque, whence the derivatives quintus 'fifth,' Q
uintus (for qninctus, Quinctus), and Quinctus, Quintius, which we have as an Oscan name in , Latinized Pomptius, and Pontius as in the well-known name of the Samnite Pontius Pilate. The relative morality of the Pictish and Roman ladies was illustrated by a quotation from Dion Cassius; and then followed chapters on the Ogmic alphabet, the orographical survey of Wales, and its geological, biological, municipal, and climatic conditions. A personal inspection of the tombstones in the graveyards of Wales enabled the Commissioners to produce original evidence of the longevity of the inhabitants. [Laughter.] Perhaps some hon. Member would be good enough to inform the House how all this affected the hill-side farms of Wales. ["Hear, hear!"] The Report then passed to the laws of Howell the Good, in the 10th century, and made this important discovery—that no value was attached to a hare in old days because the hare had two sexes which changed every month. [Laughter.] If the Commissioners could show that this applied to the higheranimals in Wales, they would have established some foundation for differentiation of Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom, and perhaps in favour of female suffrage itself. [Laughter.] The Report next dealt fully with the strange habits of the Welsh people described as "streccio," "cnocio," "fen-stern," and "bundling," and illustrated the improved morality of the Welsh by stating that now it was a disgrace to be found drunk—drawing a fine distinction between being drunk and getting drunk and being found out. [Laughter.] The manner in which the Welsh spent their Sunday next engaged the attention of the Commissioners, ending by a description of a religious revival in these words:—The whole congregation is either moved to exceeding ecstasy under a vivid realisation of things invisible, or uncontrollable terror by discovery of their lost condition.At last he came to a real oasis in the desert—a chapter on the subject of rent and ownership. It was stated that:—In the King and Queen of England is vested the eminent domain or paramount ownership of the soil. … An estate is an economic unit, an industrial and organic entity having a life of its own.All of which was very helpful. [Laughter.] Then ten pages were devoted to Professor Walker on Ricardo's "Theory of Rent," and there was a whole chapter on John Stuart Mill's "Political Economy." The Commissioners, however, were good enough to put into a nutshell the whole theory of rent so that any stupid man might comprehend it. They said:—Now assume Y exceeds X by Z." [Laughter.] "Then if the landlord claims Z as rent and that is payable, there is no interest on the tenant's capital and he is a loser. If Z is so large that a fair interest can be paid on capital A, then the surplus can be paid to the landlord.[Laughter.] After that every one must know what was a fair economic rent. [Laughter.] From those premises the Commissioners came to the conclusion that the agricultural conditions of England and Wales were identical, and that the Welsh rents had not been reduced in the same proportion as rents in England. Let them hear for themselves the real facts taken from theincome tax returns. In Monmouth the reduction had been 16'2; in Devonshire, 13'9; in Denbigh, 14.7; in Westmorland, 13.8; in Radnor, 13.4; in Cumberland, 12.1; in Brecon, 12.8; in Cornwall, 6.2:; in Flint, 11.7; and in Cheshire, 6'07. On those figures he charged the Commissioners with an untrue statement, the Commissioners asserted that the agricultural depression in Wales was identical with the depression in England. But Mr. Doyle, a most impartial authority, a Poor Law Inspector, and a Radical, said in his evidence before the Richmond Commission:—"The depression is neither so severe nor so general in Wales as in England." Next came the assertion that such was the land hunger in Wales and the competition for farms that the tenants had no chance. Mr. Doyle, on the contrary, stated that "the almost exclusive use of the Welsh language amongst the class of small farmers gives Welshmen in far-away parts almost a monopoly of land-holding;" and he went on to say, "The restricted competition for farms compels owners in too many cases to accept undesirable tenants." The fondness of the Welsh people for home and their dislike to migrate had been dwelt on by several hon. Members in the course of the Debate. But Mr. Doyle asserted that the younger members of Welsh families emigrate and migrate without hesitation. Another thing they did; when they crossed the border they rarely came back. [Laughter.] It was with a blush that he had read in the Report of the Commission, "strapping Welsh wenches were in great demand in London." [Laughter.] He did not wish to minimise Welsh agricultural grievances. He participated in them himself. Nor did he wish that any one should suppose that depression had not been heavy on the Welsh tenant. ["Hear, hear!"] But what did the Bill do to remedy their condition? In the first place, it abolished freedom of contract, which was the mainstay of the agricultural industry, and the greatest safeguard to the tenants. The effect of the Bill would be to raise rents on all those estates where rents were below the average. He believed it had already created widespread alarm amongst the tenants, because on many of the large estates in Wales the rents were below the average of rents around. The Bill wouldlead to wholesale ejectment of farmers whose methods of farming was below the average. The Commissioners in their Report declared that the average farmer in Wales did not do justice to the land, because he was hindered by want of capital, want of education and want of energy. He would not follow the example of members of the Commission by throwing dirt on the Welsh tenantry. ["Hear, hear!"] Again, the Bill proposed to create a triple ownership, that of the landlord, that of the tenant, and that of the County Court. The tenant would be under two sets of agents, the Commission having declared that no one individual could combine all the qualities necessary in a good agent. Rents were to be fixed by guesswork. The promoters of the Bill had not the courage or intelligence to say how a fair rent should be assessed, and they got out of the difficulty by not stating any method, standard, or principle. The Bill discouraged improvements. The owner had to apply to the Court for leave to build a cottage, to grant an allotment, to make a cottage garden, or even to build a house for himself. The Bill altogether ignored the interests of the labourer, and divorced him from the possibility of getting a farm, and the Commissioners said that his interests were irreconcilable with those of the farmer. The agitation of the past few years had had a most prejudicial effect already. The actual result stated in his evidence by Mr. Morgan Richardson was disastrous to the yeoman farmer:—The difficulties which have been suggested with regard to the Welsh land tenure, and the suggestions which have been made for a land court, have, I may say, prejudiced these freeholders to a very great extent, because the rate of interest has proportionately increased. People have no longer that confidence in investing in land that they had eight or ten years ago. I may say that five or six years ago, before a Welsh land question was heard of, we were frequently offered, personally, by London solicitors, large sums of money at 3 and 3½ per cent, to lend on land in Wales, because the interest was so punctually paid that it was supposed to be a very first-rate investment. But since this agitation has commenced for a Land Court, a great many of those mortgages have been called in, and I find it quite impossible to get the money in again at those same rates.In the meantime the real grievances of the farmers and their demands wereignored. They were, foreign competition, since 1871, unfair local and Imperial taxation, unfair railway rates, inadequate means of transport, and amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act. But all those questions were ignored by the Commissioners, and they fell back upon such sententious commonplaces as:—The principal lesson to be learnt from the history of mankind and the observations of society at the present time is that by the application of practical intelligence to the stored-up treasures of knowledge, and by skilful organisations, casualties may be diminished and their results minimised.[Laughter] A schoolboy would have been flogged for writing such stuff in a theme. [Laughter.] They went on:—We represent to your Majesty that the Welsh people are a specialty interesting portion of your Majesty's subjects—[laughter]; and,please your Majesty they are stout, valiant, courteous, hospitable, temperate, ingenious, capable of all good arts, lovingly constant, charitable, great antiquaries, religious preservers of their gentry and genealogy, as they are zealous and knowing in religion.[Laughter.] Was ever such a Report presented to Parliament? Was ever such a hotch-potch of pedantic irrelevancies composed by "our trusty and well-beloved"? [Laughter.]Oh could some sprite the giftie gie 'emTo see themselves as ithers see 'em.[Laughter.] But it would be of no use. If they were presented with a pier-glass they would only turn their backs. [Laughter.] For they belonged to that hopeless family whom Mr. Bunyan describes as "hailing from the town of Stupidity, which lyeth hard by the City of Destruction." [Laughter and cheers.]
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
said that it was impossible to seriously treat the speech of the hon. Member, but he must repeat the assertion that there had been a greater reduction of rents in England than there had been in Wales. He represented a constituency which had taken a very leading part in the recent development of this question. In Denbighshire a number of the most notable events in connection with this matter had recently taken place. This land question in Wales was not a
class question. It was of such vital interest to the country at large that it could be truly said that so far as Wales was concerned it was a national question. It was not until 1880 that there was in the House any adequate representation of the views of the Welsh tenant farmers on the question, and the Royal Commission was the result of the declaration in 1892 by Mr. Gladstone on the Welsh Land Bill that no further steps should be taken until the feeling of Wales and the circumstances of Wales had been officially tested in some way. He laid the greatest stress and importance upon the fact that the unanimous opinion of the Commission was in favour of treating the land question in Wales in a separate Bill. There was no question, therefore, as to whether they should have separate legislation in Wales on the land question. The only question before them was what sort of legislation they should have specially for Wales upon this point. What had led up to the present position as regarded land in Wales? They had first of all historically the cardinal fact that in Wales Welsh nationality had been in conflict with the land-owning class in the country, and then they had the second fact that there had been in Wales two separate land systems which had become practically assimilated; but the tenants still retained a; number of ideas belonging to the older system. One further line of cleavage between Welsh landlords and their tenants was that there had been greater friction and greater disagreement owing to religious, political, and social differences. The period since 1850 to 1880 of more or less agricultural prosperity, saw in Wales a spirit of independence grow among the farmers to a greater extent than in England, and that was met by persecution and eviction, and the evictions connected with the election of 1868 would never be forgotten. [Cheers.] He asserted without fear of contradiction that from 1880 up to 1896 the depression in Wales had been more acute than in England owing to many circumstances. But these were only the external sympathies of the case. What was the inner history of the question? The Bill promoted two things—security of tenure and fair rent. He did not think it had been pointed out as yet that in reference to the question of security of tenure inWales the proportion of occupying tenants to owners of land was much larger than it was in England. The frequent leasing of wealthy estates that had come into considerable prominence during the past few years had added not a little to the sense of insecurity felt by the tenant farmers of Wales in reference to their right to hold their farms. But undoubtedly, as had been pointed out, land hunger was very much felt among the tenant farmers of Wales. The holdings in Wales were smaller than in England, and there was more competition for farms. There were scores, if not hundreds of farmers in Wales who cultivated mountain sides, which it was impossible for them beneficially to cultivate, simply because of the insatiable hunger for land. These facts substantiated the claim embodied in this Bill that the security of land tenure as far as Wales was concerned had a character of its own. Rents in Wales were too high, and ought to be lowered, Reasonable conditions of tenancy on estates owned by certain hon. Members opposite were the exception and not the rule in Wales. This question of laud reform in Wales was not only important because agriculture remained the most important industry in the country, but because in Wales they attached special value to rural life. It was from the agricultural classes and from the rural community that in the past the Welsh people had drawn their leaders and teachers, and it was to that class of the community they looked for the mainspring of their national life. He entirely agreed with his hon. Friend in saying that they could not sit down with folded arms and watch the decadence and gradual extinction of this valuable element in their national life without making some honest effort on behalf of the tenant farmers of Wales. He trusted that the principle of the Bill, if not ratified that day, would at no distant time be ratified by a large majority in the House of Commons. ["Hear, hear!"]
COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said that besides having Welsh blood in his veins he possessed a small estate in Wales, chiefly remarkable for the extreme regularity and honesty with which the tenants had paid their rents. The estate had been hundreds of years in his family and never had evictions taken place. He believed this was typical of other estates
in Wales. In the Debate they had heard little of the necessity for the Bill, or the peculiarities of it. He believed there was no necessity for the Bill. It was impossible to separate the land question from politics in Wales. He could not think hon. Members were in earnest in producing this Bill. He gave them credit for too much common sense to believe that even in a House composed differently a Bill of that kind would be accepted. It was a reconnaissance in force to ascertain what arguments would be used against the Bill that in the future a Bill framed perhaps more moderately might be brought in. The Mover of the Bill complained that no notice was given of abatements of rent frequently given by Welsh landlords. In that there was no difference between Wales and England. It would be more convenient if notice were given that abatements would continue ten or fifteen years or more, but he could not see that Welsh tenants had any reason to complain if he got the abatement generally given by the landlords in Wales. With regard to the "showers of political evictions" which it was said had prevailed on some estates, he trusted that when the hon. Member considered the matter a little more he would acknowledge that he had drawn the long bow a little too far. He could find no evidence of them. He regretted that the hon. Member abused the new idea of conciliation. No one regretted that it had not been more successful than he did, but he hoped that in future conciliation and voluntary effort would enter more largely into the relations of landlords and tenants in Wales. As to the judges, who it was proposed should have charge of the Land Court, the hon. Member surely could not think that Members on the Government side of the House, or even Welsh landlords, would look without suspicion on a body of men chosen on the recommendation of the Welsh County Councils. The County Councils had done excellent work, and had shown that knowledge of business inherent in every Welshman, but as a landlord he would regard with more than suspicion a body of men whose principal recommendation was that they had been chosen by the Welsh County Councils. It had not been proved that a Bill so drastic as tins was required, and that if it was required that this Bill was so drawn as to dojustice to both parties. Up to the present time he had not heard that made out or proved, and until it was it would be impossible for him to accept such a Bill.
MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said the hon. Member who had just spoken had based his conclusion with regard to the land question on his own experience. If the Welsh landlords were all so genial and kindly a type as the last speaker, he had no hesitation in saying that the agitation for land reform would never have gathered sufficient force to justify the bringing in of a Bill of this character. ["Hear, hear!"] But if the hon. Member had perused the evidence given before the Commission, he would have found that that was not the case. The hon. Member had referred to the Report of the minority, but it was a remarkable fact that both the majority and minority Reports agreed that there were very considerable grievances that required redressing in an exceedingly drastic manner. The evidence must have been singularly strong to cause the minority to come to such a conclusion. The only question between the two parties was a question of degree. It was suggested that the Agricultural Holdings Act ought to be amended and a Court of Conciliation set up; but surely that was a very novel departure in the history of agricultural legislation. They had heard a great deal about freedom of contract, but hon. Members opposite proposed to interfere with freedom of contract. The only difference between them was as to the extent to which they were going to interfere with freedom of contract. He was surprised that arguments in favour of freedom of contract had been advanced from the other side of the House, especially after the very sweeping Bill that was passed unanimously yesterday, the first provision of which was that employer and employed should not be allowed to enter into contracts with regard to the question of compensation for injuries except under very restricted conditions. The hon. Member for Radnorshire said that if they interfered with freedom of contract between landlord and tenant they assumed that the landlord was a knave and the tenant a fool; but, on that assumption, the Compensation for Workmen Bill of the Government treated employers as knaves and the employés as fools. He challenged any hon. Member to point to any difference846
of principle in this respect between the two Bills. Again, the minority Report and the hon. Member for Swansea admitted that there were cases which rendered it necessary to amend the Agricultural Holdings Act. But why did they not trust to freedom of contract in that case? Why was it necessary to amend the Agricultural Holdings Act? Because it was assumed that there were landlords who would deal unfairly with their tenants, when they quitted their holdings would not pay them fair compensation, and confiscate property that belonged to the tenant. What was the difference between that and the position taken up by the promoters of this Bill? The argument of the supporters of the Bill was that there were landlords who dealt as unfairly with their sitting tenants as with their quitting tenants. ["Hear, hear!"] Moreover, the quitting tenant was a perfectly free agent, but the sitting tenant was absolutely in the hands of his landlord and not in a position to enter into a free contract. ["Hear, hear!"] If they were going to interfere with the freedom of contract in one case, on what principle should they refrain from doing so in the other? Hon. Gentlemen opposite said that the quitting tenant must be protected. The promoters of the Bill contended that there was so much rack-renting in Wales that the sitting tenant must also be protected. ["Hear, hear!"] The land hunger in Wales was admitted by both parties, and the minority in the Commission admitted the hard lot of the Welsh tenant. There was a case referred to in the Report of a farm rented at £200. There had been no reduction in the rent, only a remission of 10 per cent, once or twice. The tenant had six children, ranging from 18 to 29, who worked like slaves on the farm. A question was put to the farmer:—"Have you paid them wages for their services?" And he answered, "No; they are not clothed as they should be, and their shoes are worse than their clothes." That seemed to amuse the hon. Member for Shropshire.
COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
My smile had no reference whatever to what the hon. Member847
was saying. At the moment I was not listening to what he said. ["Hear, hear!"]
said he was sorry if he had misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman's smile. The Report was teeming with cases of that kind. The Commissioners admitted the grievance, and all that was now asked was that as a tenant leaving his farm was protected, the tenant remaining on his farm should also be protected. Until that was done there would never be a prosperous state of things in Wales. ["Hear, hear!"]
*SIR W. HART-DYKE (Kent, Dartford)
said that the Mover and Seconder of the Bill had spoken with moderation, but had not advanced a jot or tittle of argument in favour of the merits of the Measure. Those hon. Gentlemen and others had referred to the land hunger in Wales, and had asserted that the fear of losing their holdings poisoned the whole existence of the Welsh farmers. He was sure that his hon. Friends who represented Essex, and other English agricultural counties, would be thankful if some of their tenants were inoculated with such a poison. ["Hear, hear!"] He refused to regard this Measure as simply a Welsh Measure, inasmuch as the bases of the land systems of England and the Principality were identical, and the Bill might with just as much justice be applied to Sussex, Norfolk, and other English counties where different customs prevailed, as to Wales. In the first place the Bill proposed to create dual ownership. That would be a very revolutionary change, but if a similar experiment had not been tried in recent years, something might, in face of the difficulty and danger which now beset agriculture, be said for it. Surely, of all times to choose at which to make such a proposal, this was the very worst. When he introduced his Irish Land Bill of 1870, Mr. Gladstone promised Ireland, as a result of passing that Measure, everlasting peace between landlord and tenant, but in 1881 another Act was passed which produced a state of things so absurd and chaotic that another Land Act was passed last Session, and this year a Commission was to issue, to inquire into the relations between, landlord and tenant. In support of the creation of dual ownership in Ireland, two grievances were advanced—the absenteeism of the landlords and the fact that all improvements fell on the tenants.
No such grievances could be alleged in the case of Wales—indeed, no charge was made against the existing Welsh landlords. ["Hear, hear!"] If, however, Parliament passed the dual ownership clause, no landlord in Wales would spend a single farthing on the improvement of his property, and the result must necessarily be disadvantageous to the agricultural industry. Then, again, the proposal for the setting up of a Court was so ridiculous that it was really a waste of the time of the House to discuss it. Did hon. Members honestly believe that the Court they were proposing to establish could ever work to the benefit of either landlord or tenant? The proposition was that the County Councils of Wales should furnish the Board of Agriculture with a list of names of gentlemen, and that the Board should choose from the list a certain number of gentlemen who should become agricultural judges, possessing full judicial powers. In view of the mode of selection, could it be imagined for a moment that such a Court would work smoothly or that there would be no legal or political strife? He was reminded that 13 or 14 of the Welsh representatives belonged to the legal profession, and therefore it was not difficult for him to understand the presence of Clause 11 in the Bill. That clause provided that the parties might appear in Court and be represented by Counsel. Under such circumstances, he thought that the Bill might be regarded as a Lawyers' relief Bill rather than a tenants' relief Bill. ["Hoar, hear!"] Another clause provided for fixity of tenure, but his experience as a landlord was that the adverse circumstances of the day had in a sense produced fixity of tenure as regards every good tenant. Any landlord, either in England or Wales, who proposed to get rid of a good tenant, ought to be relegated to the nearest county lunatic asylum. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite had urged again and again that rents had been more largely reduced in England than in Wales during all these bad agricultural seasons. His hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire had shown many cases in which there had been larger reductions in Wales than in England, but, whether that was so or not, he submitted there was a grave distinction between the two cases.