I doubt very much whether any uneasiness that the policy of the Government as regards land, and the various statements which have been made by Ministers again and again, and especially by the present Minister, on the question of the tenure of land, will be in any way allayed by the statement made here last week by the Minister. I occasionally see a complaint made that we on this side are trying to raise a scare in the breasts of the farmers of the country as to their tenure of their property. Surely it is clear that, if there is any such scare, the causes that are altogether responsible for it are the policy of the Government and the statements of Ministers. Could anything be better calculated to cause uneasiness than the general policy of the Government with regard to land and the statements of Ministers which must be borne in mind when considering that policy? How can any farmer in the country feel any security about his property when he reads the statements of the various Ministers, and particularly those of the present Minister for Lands? And when we see additional powers given to the Land Commission under this Bill, we really must interpret those powers in the light of the very alarming statements which time and again have been made by the Minister. Unless a very great social evil is proved, unless something threatening the whole welfare of the nation is shown to exist, there ought to be some security for the ordinary farmers as regards the holding of their land.
Surely it will be acknowledged on every side of the House that that particular class has been sufficiently hard hit in recent years, and especially in the last couple of years, and that they should not be made more uneasy by the new powers that are taken by a Government Department under this Bill. Was there anything in the speech of the Minister last week to allay these fears? Again we had repeated a hint that was given more than once by Ministers, that unless farmers worked their land "properly," in other words, unless they happened to be quick enough to fall in with the policy of the Government of the day in agricultural matters, then they are going to be given no guarantee, so far as the holding of their land is concerned. Boiled down, that is the policy of the Government, and of the Minister, on this question for the last couple of years. Is it to be contended that that means security of tenure in any sense? Unless farmers can change their whole agricultural economy with every general election, they are not to be guaranteed possession of their land. What the present Minister may consider to be the proper use of land, a future Minister may consider to be very improper or very uneconomic. Is the ordinary farmer, no matter what size holding he has, to be the plaything of Party politics in this way? Is it not obvious that his whole security is gone when powers of this kind are taken? Powers of this kind claimed in this section, no matter how limited, and no matter what respect we may have for the Land Commission, must be related to the general policy of the Minister.
When this policy was first started, the country was given to understand that it was "ranchers" that were going to be dealt with. The cry of "Split up the ranches" was supposed to justify that policy. But, as in other countries, so here also, that was only the beginning. In other countries it was found advisable to start with the large-size farms, but ultimately the property of all farmers was put in jeopardy and destroyed. Faced with such developments elsewhere, surely it ought to be the aim of our Government here not to weaken the sense of security but to strengthen it. However, we seem to be doing the very opposite, and with very little justification.
I can imagine in a time of great crisis political and social developments of such a character as might justify serious interference with property, and even property of this kind, but it cannot be alleged that such a crisis exists. It is only with great hesitation that a step of this kind should be contemplated. But the Government Benches willingly—I was going to say blindly— plunge into an abyss. Do Ministers imagine that the headline they are setting up will not be copied? Does anybody imagine that the demand for land in some localities will not be so great that pressure will not be brought to bear on successive Ministers to interfere with the ordinary rights of farmers? After all, when buying out his land the farmer believed—and it was the fact—that he was purchasing a right to the land. The land does not belong to the State.
I have seen various statements of different Ministers from the time they took office up to the present, and in these I notice underlying and inspiring a great deal of their policy the belief that the land belongs to the State. It does not. It is the property of private individuals, with the State having certain rights over that property, as it has rights over various other classes of property, but it has no more right to deprive a man of his land than to deprive him of any other property. When farmers purchased the rights of the landlords the land was to belong to them, but now we see one invasion of their rights after another. If there have been invasions of these rights before, that is all the more reason why we should hesitate further to pursue that line of policy. Everything should be done in the present state of agriculture to add to the sense of security; not to take away from that sense in any way. And yet this is what is happening, because it is obvious that the farmer will regard this as a further step, which may be followed to a further conclusion afterwards, towards depriving him of his right to his farm. No one can suggest that the right of the farmer in his land depends on his ability to accept the changed policies of successive Ministers. No one can suggest that any such claim makes for security of tenure. The evils that spring from insecurity should be avoided. Apart altogether from the question of the right and injustice involved, even if there are individual cases in which we may register a gain by the exercise of powers, of which we have an example in this section, that is more than offset by the general unsoundness of this policy and the sense of insecurity that is raised amongst the farming community.