HC Deb 14 July 1875 vol 225 cc1449-59

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move, That the Bill be now read the second time, said: Mr. Speaker—In 1832, a few days before the passing of the Re-form Act, there was enacted a law to authorize in certain parishes the letting of poor-allotments in small portions to industrious cottagers. The Preamble of the Act recites the existence in many parishes of allotments made for the benefit of the poor; which allotments were then comparatively useless and unproductive. It says that it would tend to the welfare and the happiness of the people if those allotments could be let at a fair rent and in small portions to industrious cottagers of good character. It enacts that it shall be lawful for the trustees of the allotments, together with the parish officers, to allot plots of between a quarter of an acre and one acre upon a yearly occupation from Michaelmas to Michaelmas, and at such rent as land of the same quality has usually let for, in the same parishes, to such industrious cottagers of good character, being day-labourers or journeymen, legally settled in the said parish or dwelling within or near it, as should apply for the same. There follows provisions as to the cultivation of the land, as to the holding of a vestry to receive applications, and as to the payment of rent. This Act, to which I will in future allude as the Act of William IV., was a good Act, and it has been put in force with the best effects in several parishes of the Thames Valley, especially in the neighbourhood of Walton and Weybridge; but it has not been largely put in force. It is doubtful whether its true legal construction makes it apply to cultivated lands, and the only remedy by which its enforcement can be assured is by the costly process of mandamus, which poor cottagers cannot afford. Still, I repeat that the Act of William IV., was a good Act and a safe one as regards lands in respect to which it is already in force and lands in the same and adjoining parishes. On the other hand, we passed in 1873 an Act called the Poor Allotments Amendment Act, which was a less good Act. It contained a clause, amongst others, which gave power to the trustees to require that the rent for any land let under the Act of 1832 should be paid for a whole year in advance. I, myself, frankly admit that I do not like that clause; but I have put it in my Bill because I think that the Bill with it will be an improvement of the present law, and one which it would be a substantial benefit to the labouring poor to possess; whereas the Bill without it would not possess the smallest chance of becoming law, either in this or the next Session. The object of the present Bill is to make clear the law, as stated in the two former Acts, and to provide the cottagers affected by them with a cheap and easy remedy in those cases where the spirit of the Act of William IV. is not fairly understood by the trustees. The Act of 1832 contemplates the acquisition of allotment plots by labourers in cases where they offer, and by the Act of 1873 may be required to pay in advance a rent equal to that generally paid in the same parish. But in the cases—any number of which can be produced—in which the labourers are refused those plots of ground, or in which they are offered to them only at a rent, two or three times as great as that which other persons pay, the present remedy is an application for a mandamus to one of the Superior Courts of Law—a remedy which, of course, is wholly out of the labourer's reach. The most important of all the objects of the present Bill is to provide a cheap and easy remedy in lieu of the mandamus. In order to make out a case for legislation, I ought to show the existence of a grievance. I will then briefly refer to 19 cases drawn from nine counties in England—the detailed information as to each of which is in my possession. The first case is one from Oakley near Thame in Buckinghamshire. In this parish, there are more than 115 acres of "poor folks" pasture, producing a rental of £102 10s., distributed in money amongst the poor of the parish. The land is let to a farmer; and the labourers state to me their desire and ability to rent it. They are willing to give a higher rent for it than is now given, and they would probably go to 50 per cent above the present rent. Two of the trustees, who are clergymen, are favourable to the labourers' view; but the farmers, who form a majority, are hostile. In the same parish the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) lets 86 acres of allotments to 90 tenants for £102, and the rents are so regularly paid that he has only lost a few shillings by bad tenants within the last five years. Part of this same land of his, was formerly let to a farmer at 7s. 6d. an acre; but he gave it up because the land was so poor it did not pay him. The men pay now £1 2s. 6d. an acre, and the farmers want to get it away from them; but the right hon. Gentleman, much to his honour, has replied that the men who have improved it shall have it; and I believe that the allotment-holders have lately presented him with a silver ink-stand. The second case is that of Wavendon, in the county of Buckingham. In this parish there are 11 acres of town-land. Ten acres were lately let at a rent of £14, and one acre let in allotments to the poor, at a rent of £4 7s. In 1873, the labourers, on the death of the late occupier of the 10 acres, made an ineffectual effort to become themselves tenants of the 10 acres. They memorialized the Charity Commissioners, alleging that the 10 acres, let for £14, were badly cultivated and had not been manured for 20 years. The son-in-law of the late occupier then offered £20 instead of £14; and the trustees accepted the same without trying to get more from the labourers; and they wrote to the Charity Commissioners stating that they objected to let land to labourers, inasmuch as with regard to the one acre already so let, the rents were paid at irregular dates. With regard to this one objection it must be observed that there is no fixed time to pay the rent, and that every man takes it to the clergyman when he pleases. The objection of the trustees would have no force against our Bill, because they could, if they pleased, demand payment in advance. The third case is that of Thurleston in Warwickshire. Here there are 43 acres set apart for the benefit of the poor—the rent to be distributed in fuel. Eight acres are let in allotments. Thirty-two acres at least are rented by one landowner; but there are 40 or 50 labourers at present without allotments who have offered to pay a higher rent for the 32 acres, if let in allotments. The fourth case is that of Hanslope in Buckinghamshire. In this parish there are 61 acres of charitable land and six acres of poor's allotments' land. The labourers cannot get either, although they would gladly pay higher than the present rent for both. The fifth case is that of Sutton St. James in Lincolnshire. In this parish political disputes have been imported into the selection of persons to occupy allotments—which state of things would be prevented by the remedy offered under this Bill. The sixth case is that of Burton in Buckinghamshire. In this parish there are 15 acres of arable charity land, for which the men would gladly pay higher than the present rent. The seventh case is that of Wappenham, near Towcester, Northamptonshire. Here there is a poors' allotment of 15 acres, let at £25 a-year. The men have offered to give £30 a-year and to pay in advance for it; but they have been refused. They are paying for other allotment-land, in the same parish, at the rate of £3 an-acre. The eighth case is that of Graffham in Huntingdonshire. Here there are 21 acres of town-lands, for which the men offer higher than the present rent, but are refused. The ninth case is that of Woughton-in-the-Green in Buckinghamshire. Here there are 14 acres of poor's-land, let at £20, to a Mr. Letts. He sub-lets half of it in allotments at an increased rent. The labourers would gladly directly occupy the whole at the same rent. The tenth case is that of Ratley in Warwickshire. Here there are 12 acres of fuel allotments, of which the labourers occupy one acre; but they would gladly occupy the whole at higher than the present rents. The eleventh case is that of Sympson in Buckinghamshire. Here there are 48 acres of poor's-land, which the labourers would gladly rent, but are refused. There are no allotments at all in the parish. The twelfth case is that of Little Barrington in the county of Gloucester. Here there are 24 acres of arable poor's land. On this some of the labourers have been given allotments of one-tenth of an acre each, but many have none at all. They would gladly take the whole of the land at an improved rent. The thirteenth case is that of Hampton Poyle, in Oxfordshire. Here there are four acres which are historical, inasmuch as they gave rise to this Bill. The rector of the parish, who is one of the trustees, vainly attempted to induce the other trustees to let the labourers have it instead of a butcher. The fourteenth case is that of Great Rollewright, in Oxfordshire. In this parish there are 27 acres of fuel allotments let out in allotments to the labourers; but there are also 56 acres of poor's-land let at £80, and which the labourers, by offering £90 or £100 for, have caused it to be put up to £90; which the labourers want to have; but they have been refused by the trustees, on the ground that if they had it "they could not attend to the farmers' work." The fifteenth case is that of Bampton, in Oxfordshire. In this parish there are about 70 acres of poor's land, for which the men would gladly offer a higher rent. The sixteenth case is that of Stamford, in Berkshire. Here there are 25 acres of poor's land, for which the labourers would give a higher rent. The seventeenth case is that of Farringdon, in Berkshire. Here there are 39 acres, of which nine acres are let in plots of three acres each to three labourers. There are many other labourers who would gladly pay a higher rent. The eighteenth case is that of Longborough, in Gloucestershire. Here there are 17 acres of fuel-allotments' land. The labourers have offered a greatly increased rent, and have applied to the Charity Commissioners, to whom the trustees wrote, saying that the labourers had already allotments of the average size of half-an-acre. But this is not true. The nineteenth case is that of Brill, in Buckinghamshire. Here there are 181 acres let at £184, for which the labourers would gladly give a higher rent. I might produce any number of similar cases, but I have only stated those with the whole of the details of which I am thoroughly acquainted. The Bill which is now before the House states in its Preamble that the provisions of the Act of 1832 have only been partially carried out. The main enacting clause of the Bill is the 4th, which provides that all trustees in whom lands are vested for the general benefit of the poor, shall annually in the month of June give notice of the situation and extent of the lands so held, and of the rent per acre which they are ready to accept for the same lands when let in plots under the Act of 1832; and also of the time and place at which application of cottagers to rent portions may be made. The clause goes on to direct trustees to let to labourers, provided that a higher rent cannot otherwise be obtained, but giving them the power to require the rent for lands let to cottagers may be paid for a whole year in advance. The 5th clause is inserted in consequence of an agitation against the Bill, as it was drawn last year, in the parishes around Weybridge, where the old Act had been successfully worked. We do not consider such clause to be necessary, but as there is a doubt on the matter, we think it is better to have it in. The 6th and 7th clauses are an explanation of the 4th. The 8th clause directs that where, either from the constitution of the trust, or from any other cause, it is difficult for the trustees to let the lands as directed, the Charity Commissioners may settle rules for the appointment of local managers. The 9th clause provides against neglect on the part of the trustees, and gives the newly-proposed remedy, which is by application to the Judge of the County Court, who is given power to issue an order, having for certain limited objects a similar effect to that of a mandanus from the Superior Courts. But, at the same time, the trustees are guarded by being enabled to show reasons for their omissions, and by a provision in the 10th clause that the certificate of the Charity Commissioners to the effect that, under the circumstances of the case, there are sufficient grounds for their so acting, shall be deemed to be a sufficient defence to any such suit brought before the County Court Judge. The 11th and 12th clauses provide that if the rent of a plot shall be for four weeks in arrear—that is, of course, in the case where the year's rent in advance has not been demanded by the trustees—that then the trustees may obtain a summons against the person as unlawfully holding, and regain possession. So much for the provisions of the Bill. The lands to which the Bill shall apply are partly defined in the Act of 1832, and partly in the 4th clause of this Bill. It should be understood that the question of allotments raised by this Bill is only the question of who shall be tenant. The rent remains for the benefit of the original objects of the trustees undisturbed, although we expect that the rents will be increased, because a higher rent is generally paid for an allotment of part of an acre than is paid when land is taken in large quantities for a farm. The general benefits, therefore, are either not affected or are augmented. But the only question is, who shall be tenant? Now, we all know that the labourers are commonly disliked as tenants by the farmers, on the ground that the allotments make the labourers "too independent." This is, however, I think, a narrow view which the farmers take of their own interest, inasmuch as the allotments would keep the labourers on the spot, and would form a sort of security for the farmer that they would not run

short of labour, as they have lately done in some parts of England.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)


would briefly explain his reasons for asking the House not to read the Bill a second time. No one felt more thoroughly than he did that the system of allotments, if properly managed, was beneficial to the labourers in the rural districts. Therefore, he did not oppose the measure in consequence of any objection to the system, but because he did not think that the provisions of the Bill were necessary, or that they would effect the objects which the hon. Baronet had in view. The provisions of the Act of William IV. were almost identical with those which the House was now asked to consider. Under that Act the vestries and trustees of lands left for charitable purposes were obliged to let such lands to the labouring classes in the parishes where the lands were situated, so that the object of the hon. Baronet was really effected by the statute in question. Perhaps, however, the hon. Baronet might say that his object was to make the statute operative in cases where it had not been put in force. [Sir CHARLES W. DILKE: Hear, hear!] Well, the object in view could not be attained, for the Act of William IV. was compulsory on all parishes, but in Section 5 of the present Bill it was provided that it should not apply, except in cases where the previous Act had not been put in force. Now, in point of fact, the Act of William IV. was put in force in every parish. This 5th clause, he thought, was the defect in the Bill. Besides another statute was passed in 1873 in order to render the Act of 1832 operative. The Bill which the hon. Baronet now sought to induce the House to read a second time was intended to repeal the Act of 1873. To that he (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) was opposed. That statute provided that where the number of trustees was more than 20 a committee should be elected of not more than 12 or fewer than 6. The last-mentioned Act would probably produce efficiency, and considering how short a time had elapsed since it passed he doubted the expediency of an attempt at the pre- sent time to re-open the question. For these reasons, he asked the House not to agree to the second reading.


, in supporting the second reading of the Bill, pointed out that the Act of 1873 had failed to carry out the object which was desired. He maintained that the cost to enforce the application of the Act in the parishes referred to by the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was such as to preclude poor labourers from obtaining allotments. He believed the Bill, if passed, would confer one of the greatest boons that could possibly be granted to the agricultural labourer. He hoped that the Bill would be read a second time, and all necessary Amendments could be made in Committee.


sympathized with the hon. Baronet and with the hon. Gentleman who supported the second reading of the Bill in their desire to secure an extension of land for agricultural labourers, but he doubted whether the Bill was necessary, and whether the object in view might not be attained by a shorter and simpler course. He looked upon the Bill as calculated to compel the trustees to put up the land year by year to let, a provision which would be attended with considerable disadvantage. He considered the existing Act contained all the power necessary to warrant the trustees to let land for cottage accommodation. In the 19 cases adduced by the hon. Baronet there had been a direct breach of trust on the part of the trustees, and he would point out that the persons aggrieved might have at once applied for redress to the Charity Commissioners. It was only necessary in his judgment to put into operation the Act of 1832, as amended, by the Act of 1873, and this could easily be done by the machinery which the Charity Commissioners had at their disposal. He hoped the hon. Baronet would not press the second reading of his Bill.


said, he had had considerable opportunities of knowing that there were many counties wherein no land could be obtained to erect cottages upon for the labouring poor; and, so far as related to that fact, the Bill of the hon. Baronet seemed to be desirable. The hon. Baronet in his statement, referring to the Act of 1832, and to the Act of 1873, passed to enforce the provisions of that Act, said the words "you are required," addressed to the trustees, were embodied in it; but it was a fact that the trustees, notwithstanding that direction, had not acted as they should have done in compliance with the words. Looking, however, at the 5th clause of the hon. Baronet's Bill, he thought it objectionable. He was afraid that there would arise a conflict between the provisions of the Act of 1873 and the provisions of the 5th section of this Bill if it were passed into a law. Were the Bill to pass as it now stood its operation would be extremely limited. His opinion was that the second reading ought not to be pressed. The publicity which had been given by the debate, and the assurance given by the Government that trustees could be held responsible for the discharge of the duty cast upon them by the law, and that these trustees ought to be reminded of their responsibility, would, he thought, sufficiently gain the object sought to be attained by the hon. Baronet. No doubt the law had hitherto been in force, but he denied that it had been fairly enforced. What had been said, however, would help to bring trustees to a proper sense of their duty, and that would be sufficient in the meantime. There would be no practical purpose gained even were the Bill read a second time at this protracted period of the Session. For himself, he should be sorry if any display of want of unanimity were made by the House on such a subject as the condition of the labouring poor. That was not, and ought never to be made, a Party question. They were all equally interested in the welfare of the labouring poor. He felt quite certain that every necessary object would be served by trustees being informed as to what the law was, and the determination of the Government that the law should be put into force.


said, his object was to provide a cheap and easy means of compelling trustees to enforce the law. With reference to the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Sussex, he might remark that a case had occurred in Gloucestershire where an application had been made without success to the Charity Commissioners. He could not agree that it was undesirable that a division should be taken upon the Bill.


thought it was undesirable to have a division on the Bill, and therefore he moved the Previous Question.

Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."—(Sir Rainald Knightley.)

The House divided:—Ayes 116; Noes 164: Majority 48.