I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The subject of this Bill from the first line to the last is land. Its object is to facilitate and secure the settlement of suitable persons upon the land, preferably persons who have served in the forces of the Crown in this or in any previous war. Surely, there never was a time in our long Island story when the settlement of a contented and a robust peasantry upon our soil was more desirable or more urgent than it is to-day, and I hope I may add that never was that urgency more gene-rally recognised. The men from the land in Scotland have proved to be a tower of strength in the hour of national peril, and their ranks, which have been thinned by the scythe of death, must be replenished by men who, if need be, will vindicate the claim to heroism which they have so fully established. It behoves us, therefore, in our legislation, to have regard not only to the cities but to the solitudes as well, and it is desirable that in these days men should escape from the drive and the artificiality and the fever of city life to the freshness, the freedom, and the peace which a country life offers. The tillers of her soil are the very backbone of France to-day, and there is no reason why that should not be so in Scotland as well. The purpose of this Bill is to help to bring about that desirable consummation. It falls naturally into five parts—first, acquisition of land, secondly Amendment of the Landholders Act of 1911, thirdly allotments, fourthly finance, and fifthly general. With regard to the first, acquisition of land, the scheme of this part of the Bill differs materially from that of the English Bill, the Land Facilities Bill, because of the difference in the existing methods of providing small holdings in the two countries. In England land is acquired by way of purchase or hire by county councils, by whom in turn it is sold or let to smallholders. In Scotland, on the other hand, the normal method of providing smallholdings has been by way of extension of the crofting system of tenure. Under the provisions of the Small Landholders Act of 1911 the land is acquired neither by the county councils nor by the State. The method adopted has been to select land and to equip it, preferably by agreement with the landlord, but, failing agreement, there are compulsory powers to require the land to be let by the landlord direct to the smallholder under a system which confers fixity of tenure upon him at a fair rent determined by the Land Court. The cost of the equipment and of the compensation fall upon the Agriculture (Scotland) Fund. In accordance with the decision of the Government, it is now thought desirable to supplement the provisions of the 1911 Act by the acquisition of land by purchase as affording an alternative procedure which may be used alongside of existing powers to meet the special necessities of the present and of the immediate future. But whereas in England a code of compulsory purchase is to be found under the Small Holdings Act, 1908, in Scotland no such code exists, and accordingly it becomes necessary to provide such a code in this part of the Bill, and it will be found in the First Schedule.
Having thus seen that the conditions of the problem in Scotland are entirely different from those of England, let me proceed to examine the provisions of the first part of the Bill. In a sentence, it
widely extends the powers conferred by the Small Holding Colonies Acts, 1916 and 1918. It extends these powers in six different particulars. First, it extends the time for acquiring land. The powers under these two Acts, to which I have referred, extend during the continuance of the War and a period of six months thereafter. The powers under this Bill extend to a period of two years from the date when it becomes an Act of Parliament. Secondly, it extends the method of acquiring land. Under the Small Holding Colonies Acts land could only be acquired by means of agreement. Under this Bill, with the consent of the Treasury and the Secretary for Scotland, land may be acquired compulsorily for all the purposes with which the Bill deals. Thirdly, it extends the terms upon which land can be acquired. Under the Small Holding Colonies Acts there were limitations in virtue of which land had to be taken either on lease or in consideration of an annual payment or on feu. These limitations entirely disappear under the present measure, and land can be acquired in exchange for capital value in the ordinary way. Fourthly, this Bill extends the purposes for which land may be acquired. Under the Small Holding Colonies Acts land could only be acquired for the purpose of colonies. Under this Bill land may be acquired for that purpose, but may also be acquired for the purposes of reclamation and drainage as well— very important purposes, as the House will agree. Again, it extends the amount of land which may be acquired. Under the Colonies Acts the amount of land which might be acquired is 20,000 acres. Under the present Bill there is no limitation whatsoever. Lastly, it extends the powers of the Board with regard to land after it has been acquired. It enables the Board
to erect, repair, or improve dwelling-houses and other buildings on any land acquired by the Board, or to execute any other improvement—
upon such land, or to arrange with the tenant for doing so. It enables the Board
to sell, excamb, or let any such land or any right or interest therein; and generally to manage any such land.
So that it will be seen that, in the matter of time for acquiring the land, the method of acquiring it, the terms on which it may be acquired, the purpose for which it may be acquired, the amount which may be acquired, and the uses to which it may be put when acquired, this Bill widely
extends the existing law. Further, power is conferred to enable the Board to inspect land which it may conceive may be suitable for the purpose it has in view, and the Board is also empowered to enter upon land acquired within fourteen days after giving due notice, and without previous compliance with the provisions of the Land Clauses Act. A similar provision was inserted in our Housing Bill. Finally, in this connection, power is conferred on the Board under Section 6 to let or to sell the land which they have acquired at such price, or at such rent, as in the opinion of the Board is reasonable. It will thus be seen how sweeping are the changes introduced by Part I. of this Bill—changes, however, which, I venture to think, are essential for its prompt and effective operation.
I now pass to Part II. of the Bill, which is entitled "Amendment of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, 1911" Here I feel that I am treading upon the embers of many controversies of bygone days, and it will be my endeavour to avoid kindling them into flame again. So far I have been dealing with the question of purchase alone under Part I. of the Bill. It is not thought, however, that the Bill should be limited to purchase. A strong feeling, I apprehend, exists, both in Parliament and outside Parliament, that the Landholders Act of 1911 should be developed in such a manner as will cheapen and accelerate its procedure, and free it from certain traditions which have hampered its operation in the past, and which have really made it so costly in its working as to render its wide application practically prohibitive. When the Amending Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) received a Second Heading some time ago, I gave certain pledges upon this subject, and Part II. of this Bill is a bond fide attempt to fulfil those pledges. I think my hon. Friend will find that in Part II. of the Bill many of the provisions of his Bill are included. The more important matters in which it is proposed to amend the Act of 1911 are three in number. There are many, but there are three very important matters in which it is proposed to amend that Act. I may put it in this way: There are three questions which naturally arise. First, who is to decide upon the application of compulsion, and who is to fix the rent of the new holding? That is the first question which naturally arises. Secondly, who is to assess compensation in the event of a dispute—compensation in respect of the constitution of the new holding? Thirdly, what shall be the measure of that compensation?
Let me deal quite shortly with each of these three questions in the light of the Bill. As regards the first—who is to fix the rent of the holding and the application of compulsion?—under the Code of 1911, as it exists to-day, the interference of the Scottish Land Court was required as a stage in the procedure in the formation of new holdings. Their consent was necessary to the application of compulsion. The result in practice was great delay. And not only so, but where the Land Court happened to differ from the Board in respect of the rent that ought to be charged, not only delay, but dislocation followed. It seems to me unreasonable that the body which, on behalf of, and at the expense of, the State, forms a new holding—that is, the Board—should not be entitled to fix the original rent to be charged, of which I think they ought to be the best judges, in agreement with the person whom they select as suitable to be placed on the new holding. The Bill accordingly short-circuits the existing procedure. It eliminates altogether the intervention of the Land Court at this stage, and confers full powers upon the Board of Agriculture, except in the matter of compensation. The steps of procedure indicated in the Bill are, shortly, these The Board has, first of all, to be satisfied that there is a demand for small holdings, and that suitable land exists to fulfil that demand. A scheme for the constitution of small holdings is then prepared, and notice of the intended scheme must be given to the landlord. The prepared scheme is then intimated, not only to the landlord, but also to the tenant and the occupier, and they will have an opportunity of considering the prepared scheme, and making representations concerning it if they so desire. The Board may then, with the consent of the Secretary for Scotland, make an Order confirming the scheme, and notice of that Order is at once given to those interested in the land, namely, the landlord, the tenant, and the occupier of the land comprised in the scheme. Lastly, compensation is paid according to an agreement which may be reached, and so, in normal cases, the matter would end. If, however, no agreement is reached on the subject of compensation, then the second question arises for consideration.
I think that my ban. Friend is anticipating. There is nothing about £300 at this stage at all. We deal with the question irrespective of any sum. If agreement has been reached, the scheme is settled and the holders put on the land. If agreement is not reached, then the question arises, Who is to settle the question of disputed compensation, whatever its amount?
I am not quite sure that apprehend the question fully. I will look into the point. Meantime, for the purpose of this discussion, let us assume that agreement has not been reached in the matter of compensation, whatever be its amount. Somebody has to settle, on behalf of the landlord and other persons interested and the Board, what the proper sum payable ought to be. It is thought that the most appropriate authority to settle this is the Land Court. As it exists to-day, the Land Court enjoys the confidence of all classes of the community as an impartial, fair and judicially-minded tribunal. Accordingly it is proposed to place this power in their hands, subject to what is set out in the Bill, namely, that after giving all persons interested an opportunity of being heard, and, if they so desire, hearing evidence in the matter, they should reach their conclusion upon the matter. Accordingly, the answer to the second question is the Land Court. There is no provision for carrying the matter further. On a question of law, I imagine it might be taken to the Court of Session, as before, but on a question of amount, a question of pure fact, the decision of the Land Court is to be final.
Does this take away entirely the right, in cases of the sum being under £300, to go to arbitration. That is the point which my hon. Friend wished to have cleared up.
Yes; the idea underlying this Bill is that, whatever the amount, whether under £300 or over £300, it should be settled by the Land Court. So far, it has been perfectly plain sailing. Then there is the third question, What is to be the measure o£ compensation? That is an extremely difficult topic. There can be no doubt that the existing Code requires readjustment and modification, and the provisions which are contained in Clause 9, Sub-section (11), are an attempt to secure a more reasonable arrangement. I will not go into these details at this stage. They will give rise to cartful consideration in the Committee stage. It suffices to say that Clause 11 confers on any person whose property is injured the right to compensation for any damage or injury done in consequence of and directly attributable to the constitution of new holdings under the scheme, including any damage or injury done to a landlord in respect of an obligation to take over sheep stock at a valuation. Then follow two or three matters which the arbitrator is directed not to take into consideration. Moreover, there are provisions relating to the enlargements of existing holdings and common grazings. The law regarding these matters is amended in certain particular, with which I need not delay the House at this stage. Finally, in this connection, in Clause 12, the House will find a very important power conferred upon the Board. The Board may, with the approval of the Secretary for Scotland and the Treasury, apply the Agriculture (Scotland) Fund in making or guaranteeing advances to land banks or co-operative credit societies having for their object the assistance of landholders or statutory small tenants in the stocking, equipment, and profitable working of their holdings I have no doubt that this power will prove to be a very valuable one. In recent years land on many occasions has been available, and men have been available for the occupation of that land, but as these men have had no capital- they were men, in many cases, who had been serving in France and elsewhere at Is. 2d. or thereabouts per day, and they could not have any capital—these applications had to be turned down, and no action was possible, though the land was there and the men were there. Under this provision, that state of things will, I hope, become a relic of the past.
With regard to Part III. of this Bill, I would like to say a few words. It deals with allotments, which is a very important topic. Prior to the War the allotment movement, for one reason or another, did not develop to any great extent in Scotland. During the War it received an enormous stimulus. In burghal areas alone there are more than 50,000 allotments, covering 2,000 acres of ground. in industrial districts also there are several thousand allotments now. I believe that the movement has come to stay. I believe that it ought to stay, and that it deserves all encouragement. Apart altogether from the food supply produced, the physical and social advantages are numerous and obvious. This part of the Bill is designed to facilitate the continuance and even the extension of allotment-holdings. With that object in view, it is proposed to amend the existing Statute in the light of the experience we have gained during the War, in order, first, to facilitate the provision of new allotments, secondly, to secure allotment-holders in the tenure of their plots, so far as that is reasonable and practicable, and thirdly, to assist them in the growing and production of their crops in the future. Clause 14 amends the existing law by way of simplification and concentration of the powers of local authorities, which will in future be in the hands of town councils in burghs and parish councils elsewhere. Experiences show that outside (burghs it is the parish councils which most readily and naturally concern themselves with these allotment movements, and during the War these councils have been most active in the matter in many districts. This Clause transfers the existing power of county councils to parish councils, and by Amendment of the Acts of 1892 and 1894 com bines the powers and duties of both those Acts in so far as they have proved useful in their hands.
Clause 15 shortens and simplifies the compulsory acquisition of land for allotments, whether by way of purchase or lease. Direct application by the Board of Agriculture for an order supersedes the cumbrous procedure, by way of provisional Order, of the Act of 1892. Clause 16 authorises a local authority to devote to allotments, so far as and so long as may be practicable, land required for other purposes. All sorts of land have been set apart temporarily for allotments during the War—land in parks which are dedicated to public recreation and public resort, building land which may be required for housing, and so forth. It is not practicable to keep such land in perpetuity for allotment-holders, but it is well to keep it until it is otherwise required. Clause 17, which follows a similar provision in the English Bill, contains various provisions for the benefit of allotment-holders. Sub-section I facilitates the provision of seed, plants, and implements. Sub-section (2) penalises any damage done to crops. Sub-section (3) obviates the payment of Stamp Duty upon agreements relating to allotments, where, after all, the sums involved are comparatively small. Apart from the industry of the cultivator the development of the allotment system must largely depend on the discretion and zeal of the local authorities, and if this part of the Bill becomes law it is hoped that these authorities will find themselves well armed and equipped for the performance of their duties in this matter.
Part IV. of the Bill is financial. Clause 21 provides for the issue by the Treasury, during the next two years, of a sum not exceeding £2,750,000 to the Public Works Loan Commissioners, who in turn are authorised to lend the money to the Board of Agriculture. I am asked how that sum was arrived at? I do not want to go into details. The total sum is £20,000,000. That was announced in another place. Roughly speaking, Scotland's share will be between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000. The Clause requires the Board to submit an annual statement of losses. Proceedings, of course, cannot be carried out on an economic basis during the first few years, and it is therefore provided that this loss, which will be shown in the annual statement shall, to the extent approved by the Treasury, be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament. In this way it will be possible to make some sort of rough comparison between the scale of expenditure and the losses incurred in Scotland, with corresponding expenditure and losses incurred in England Tinder a very different system.
Lastly, there is Part V. of the Bill, which is general. I will refer to two of the Clauses—22 and 23 only. The contents of Clause 22 I have anticipated. It provides that preference shall be given in all these matters to suitable persons who have served in the forces of the Crown in the present or any previous war. That is a proposal which, I am sure, does not require from me a single word of justification. Clause 23 provides that the Board may make or guarantee an advance by way of loan, out of money available under Clause 21 during the next two years, to any holder, of whatever sum the Board think necessary for the purchase of live stock, fertilisers, or implements required. That is a power which the Board regard as essential to the successful operation of the Bill in the special circumstances of the time, and I am disposed to think that the House will agree with that view.
No, it is perfectly general, and enables the Board to make those advances to all who require them, in the opinion of the Board, whether they have fought or not.
Yes. This Bill is not presented as a faultless piece of workmanship, nor are its provisions in any way sacrosanct. They represent, however, an honest attempt, after repeated and anxious consideration, to grapple with subjects which are not only vital and difficult, but which in the past have been acutely controversial. I earnestly hope that there may be no recrudescence of those controversies in the discussions on the Bill. I am very anxious that the Second Reading should be obtained, if at all possible, before the Recess—that is to say to-day. That will permit of the focussing, developing, and crystallising of public opinion outside in the course of the Recess, and when we come back we shall see precisely how we stand, and shall be able, I hope without unduly prolonged discussion, to pass the Bill through all its stages in this House.
I thought at one time it my duty to ask you to accept the Motion for the Adjournment of this Debate, but I think that the public interests of Scotland will be best served, on the whole, by acceding to the request of my right hon. and learned Friend, that the Second Reading of this Bill be given to-day. The points upon which I think we have some just cause of complaint with regard to the Bill being taken to-day and the Second Reading asked for are shortly these: First, that it is a very complicated matter, and has within it, in almost the most highly developed form, the objectional art of legislation by reference. We have here the Small Holding Colonies Act of 1916 and 1918, and we have that great subject of controversy, and indeed of litigation, the celebrated Smallholders Act of 1911. We have references in the Bill to the Congested Districts Board Act of 1897 and to the Scottish Local Government Act of 1894, and the Small Allotments Act of 1892. Everyone of those Acts in greater or lesser degree have a very important effect on Clauses in the Bill. This Bill was circulated this morning, and after a very strenuous Parliamentary week I confess I have not had the time to study it, and I am not able to contribute now any very helpful suggestions for that reason. I listened with very great pleasure to the descriptions which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland gave us of the various Clauses. I welcome anything, as I think we all must do, which saves the machinery and gives greater facilities to local authorities and sweeps away, let us hope once for all, those decisions which gathered round the name of Lindean and which to a large extent choked the operations of the Act of 1911 and gave rise to a furious controversy in Scotland. There are probably some Members who have been able to devote more time to the subject and who will be able to contribute something useful to the Debate. I hope in the Recess we shall be able to study the Bill and that there will be some public discussion of its provisions, in Scotland at any rate. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that after some time has elapsed it would be a very useful thing if in Edinburgh or some other suitable centre in Scotland he would call a conference or attend a conference where those deeply interested might lay before him any objections or proposals for betterment so that on our return we should have those suggestions which in the opinion of those interested would achieve the highest degree of efficiency. Are the powers for the compulsory purchase of land in this Bill based upon the Acquisition of Land Rill which passed through this House yesterday?
There is a Schedule which provides certain rules. What the right hon. Gentleman has, I think, in mind is those provisions of the Acquisition of Land Bill which affect the value of the land, and my answer to the question is "Yes."
Then that Act, as it will be, I suppose, in a day or two, is applicable to this as to all other measures for dealing with the compulsory acquisition of land for public purposes, except where they operate under special Acts?
I must express great disappointment with the Acquisition of Land Bill, because it will not help us very much in Scotland as it is now altered. Two or three Amendments were passed yesterday which to my mind vitally affect its usefulness. I do not know that it would be in order to make any further reference to this subject, but I express my great disappointment and regret that that measure, limited as it was, is now so cut down as to be almost wholly ineffective for public purposes, through public records. I wish to press again my suggestion as to a conference. I am quite certain such a step as that would make up for the lack to-day of that instructive and at all times helpful criticism which some Members of this House may not be in a position to offer to-day.
I am sure that every Member who listened to the speech of the Secretary for Scotland was extremely gratified at the fact that my right hon. Friend was able, despite his illness, to come down here to-day to propose the Second Reading of this Bill. We sympathise with him, and hope that the fact that he has come here to-day will not retard his complete recovery. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a most interesting and I think quite full explanation of this measure, and of the great changes proposed, and especially in the Scottish Small Landholders Act. Some of these he noticed, but glossed over without very much remark. There was one of great importance to which he hardly alluded, except in one sentence. I am glad, for one reason, that this Debate is to continue to-day. It would hardly have been possible to have allowed this Bill to be introduced and to remain completely silent, as that might give rise to misapprehension in the minds of those who read the Debate in the newspapers, as they might think that we accepted every proposal because we expressed no opinion. I earnestly hope, like my right hon. Friend, that there will be no revival of the old controversy. Personally, I have had quite enough of it, and I do not want to repeat the experience. I was called the "villain of the piece," but I only did my part, and there were equally the Prime Minister of the day, and the Patronage Secretary, and a good many other "villains." Why one was singled out for that special description I do not know. That particular controversy
centred, of course, round the old Clause of the Landholders Act, which detailed the principle on which compensation would be granted for the compulsory taking of land for small holdings, and that Clause was, after a great deal of discussion, settled in its present terms in order completely to fulfil the pledge of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, when at the Albert Hall he made his speech before the election of 1906, and stated the conditions and terms on which he proposed to acquire land for the development of small holdings. It was not then, and I do not think it is now, thought that it goes one inch beyond what he promised to do, and although there have been circumstances which raised considerable difficulties in regard to the carrying out of that Clause, the Clause in itself is only a measure embodying the precise terms on which ho said land ought to be acquired. The present Prime Minister, in a speech made at the beginning of the last election, said:
You must not take any man's property away. You cannot build a great State on dishonesty. You are bound to come to grief if you attempt it. That is one of the fundamental errors of Bolshevism. These things come back to you in the end. They poison the blood of the communities and corrupt the soul. Whatever the man has got, pay him his full value for it.
The difficulty that has arisen in this question is the difficulty of meeting the very large sums which have been awarded in Scotland in certain cases for loss to the capital value of the estate caused by the establishment of small holdings. It is no good arguing the fact as to whether or not there is that diminution of value, because it is an obvious and established fact. It may be an unfortunate fact, but it is a fact, that the moment you establish small holdings on any property in Scotland the capital value of the estate is immediately reduced, even if the letting value of the small holdings be greater. You have an excellent example in the case of Ballencreiff. The owner of Ballencreiff, which is a very fine agricultural property, was offered £25,000 for that farm before these smallholdings were established on it. He asked for £30,000, being twenty-five years' purchase of the net rental, but that transaction was not carried out. Holdings were established at Ballencreiff, I think, in 1916 and in 1917; and in the commencement of 1918. The adjoining farms were offered for sale, and so was Ballencreiff. One of the holdings was sold at twenty-one and a half years' purchase and the other at twenty years' purchase, but Ballencreiff, which I understand was the best of the three, found no purchaser at all and was ultimately sold at fourteen years' purchase. That was an extreme case, I think, but the fact remains that it is a case very much in point. When I tell the House that the compensation fixed in that case for the landlord was only £8,000, and that £6,000 of that was for buildings and only £2,000 for loss in capital value, they will see the tremendous loss there was in consequence of the establishment of small holdings.
Now the whole of this compensation is being swept away by my right hon. Friend in this proposal. In so far as the compensation Clause affects the letting value, either of the small holdings or of the estate itself, it is all carefully provided for. The Clause is quite a wide Clause and quite a suitable Clause, and no one can object to it, but, having got the Clause, you have then to look at the limitations made upon it, which are three in number. The first is the somewhat usual one, that no compensation is to be paid on account of the constitution of new holdings being compulsory. The second is the one to which I would refer particularly, and which provides that no compensation shall be payable
for injury done to or depreciation in the selling value of the land comprised in the scheme, or of any estate whereof such land forms part, except in so far as the same arises from injury done to or depreciation in the letting value of the land or estate.
That immediately cuts out everything, and no depreciation of capital value is to be allowed for at all. That, therefore, knocks the bottom out of the Clause in the present Act, and at once raises, although I hope not in any acute controversial way, the most difficult point we have got to deal with. No doubt there are alternatives now, which did not exist when the Landholders Bill was passed, in the way of acquiring land. My right hon. Friend has several ways in which he can acquire land for small holdings without carrying out the transaction on the principle of the Landholders Act. He can feu laud or buy land, which Scottish Members at that time were foolish enough, as I think, to refuse power to do, and he can get it under the Acquisition of Land Act, but as I understand it—and I would like to have this point made clear by my right hon. Friend—probably the colonies
of small holdings will be founded by acquiring the land by purchase or feu, but the provisions of the 1911 Act will be used, and will be useful also, where single holdings or groups of one or two are being created in certain places. 1 should think that that would probably be the end of it. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend agrees, but I think, where he establishes a large colony, he will most likely acquire the land by feu or by purchase, and use the Scottish Small Landholders Act in the other cases, and it is all to the good that he should have the power of doing so. I do not myself want to do anything more at the present moment than to point out to the House the enormous change which is being made in this particular Clause, and it is for the House to consider whether it is quite fair find right that it should make that alteration in the very drastic way in which it is proposed. I am not sure that there might not be some concession made which would meet certain cases of obvious hardship and great loss, but it is an extremely difficult thing to suggest how it can be done. I will frankly admit that some of the compensation which has been paid has certainly retarded the operations of the Act, although I may say that in the case of Lindean, which belongs to a personal friend of my own, he has often said to me, "If you will give me back my farm in the condition on which you took it, I will be glad to hand back the £12,000." There is a chance for my right hon. Friend. He can have the money back if he will restore the farm to Mr. Scott Plummer.
I had forgotten that, but my right hon. Friend will be able possibly to do a deal with Mr. Scott Plummer in the matter. That is all I want to say at the present moment, but I think it would be quite impassable to allow this Bill to get a Second Reading before pointing out those facts to the House. The next point on which the right hon. Gentleman laid stress was the question as to which authority was to fix the first rent of the holding. That he proposed, now should be the Board of Agriculture instead of the Land Court, and in that I quite agree with him. Then, who is to fix and assess the compensation in the event, I assume, of there being no agreement? The right hon. Gentleman cuts away the very important option which exists at present of going to arbitration where the claim exceeds £300. It is a very important option, and one which is exercised very largely. Let me admit that the exercise of that option generally arose largely from the fact that the Land Court was not considered satisfactory or fair as originally constituted. It was a most unfair Court. I have always offered criticism on this point in general, and not in particular terms, and I do so again. I say that Court was most unfair, and obviously partisan, and the whole of the difficulties which surround it have been caused by that. I admit there is a great change, and I daresay it is possible that the change of the assessing authority might be accepted Whether there should be an entire removal of the option is another matter. But I can conceive, as matters stand in this Bill, that the person making the claim would not in any way be damnified in any decision by the Land Court in the way of expenses. In the case of going to arbitration, I should think he would run the risk, if he were allowed very much less than he asked, of being saddled with the expense. If that were so, no doubt it would be a very great incentive to leaving arbitration alone, and going to the Land Court. There may be cases in which it is only fair and right that there should be arbitration, and there is no particular reason why the arbitration should be taken away.
Those are the main points about which I think it necessary to make any remark at this stage of the proceedings. We only got the Bill yesterday, and it is much too important a measure to say anything very definite about to-day. One wants not only to consider it oneself, but to hear the opinion of those interested, particularly after past experience. It ought to make one very careful about committing one self; but I do earnestly hope that, difficult as these questions are, and controversial as they may become, they have got to be settled somehow, and I trust we shall be able to settle them in the Scottish Committee in a perfectly amicable way, and without the revival of some of the heat which used to permeate the Committee Room. With regard to many of the other points of the Bill, I must say I think these are great improvements, such as that part relating to allotments; while the financial position is very greatly improved. Then an attempt is made to deal with the question of tenant's compensation, which is a very serious question with which to deal. I do not know whether it may be considered by some tenant-farmers as too drastic a proposal, but, at all events, it seeks to limit the matter within fairly reasonable terms, and to give the tenant plenty of time for turning round in the event of dispossession.
One thing I should like to say to the right hon. Gentleman is this, that if he can possibly manage—I do not think he can do it in this Bill—to do something more than has been done for rural housing, we shall put more people on the land in that way than we are likely to put in many districts of Scotland by this method. I look with great concern upon the future of this subject. It is all very well to say local authorities are responsible. It is one thing to put responsibility in a Bill; it is another thing to provide them with the means of carrying it out. I do not think they are in a position to do so, and certainly not if the restrictive provisions made in the rules and regulations are adhered to. The right hon. Gentleman can consider this matter in regard to the regulations in connection with the Housing Bill, and if he will consider the question of rural housing, give some impetus to that, and some encouragement to those who have the responsibility, then that, coupled with many of the improvements in this Bill, will, I think, greatly improve the situation in Scotland.
May I put a question with regard to the compensation to be paid? Take the operation of this Bill for acquiring land, say, for soldiers—that will be done under the Land Acquisition Act. Take the case of acquiring land for small holding—that could be done under the Land Acquisition also, with the addition of the conditions laid down in this Act specifically applied to the purchase and acqusition of land for small holdings.