HC Deb 21 May 1886 vol 305 cc1780-92

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

I beg, Sir, to move the second reading of this Bill, and in doing so I will not delay the House very long in explaining its object. The object of this Bill is to promote and facilitate the acquisition of allotments for cottagers throughout England, where they may not have been in the enjoyment of them hitherto. In other words, it is to give to every agricultural labourer throughout the country an opportunity of acquiring for himself, at a fair and reasonable rent, the use of an allotment of land which shall not be less than half-an-acre in extent. I am perfectly well aware, and I expect that most Members of this House are aware, that a great deal has already been done in regard to providing allotments without any legislative interference whatever. Under the auspices of an Association, of which the Earl of Onslow is the head, the work of providing allotments has been done to a great extent in the past; and I believe it is progressing with even greater rapidity at the present time than heretofore. I am led to believe that the provision of allotments is proceeding with greater rapidity by purely voluntary and private means than it has done for years in the past; but although that is the case, there is still an unsatisfied demand for allotments in the country, and it is with regard to that that I desire to introduce legislation which shall have the effect of hastening and stimulating the good work which, I believe, is now going on to a very considerable extent. It has been objected that if any measure of this sort is necessary, it ought to be in the hands of the Government, and not of a private Member. I am quite prepared to admit that. No doubt it is desirable that it should be in the hands of the Government; but although the Tory Party, and the late Tory Administration, when they sat on that Bench opposite, were dismissed from their position because of their supposed delinquencies in this respect, yet from that time to the present no action has been taken by the present Government in the matter; and it seems to me, therefore, that it is not inopportune that it should be dealt with by a private Member. I am not blaming the Government for themselves, except as far as the introduction of their Irish measure is concerned, for, no doubt, it is impossible for them to deal with this question as well as with their Irish Business; but, under the circumstances, it does not seem to me unreasonable that the task should be undertaken by a private Member. Now, Sir, with the permission of the House, I will endeavour to describe the provisions of this measure. In dealing with this question I have proceeded on the assumption that the instances would be very rare indeed in which the landlord would refuse to give the land for allotment, and that where this unsatisfied demand exists at the present time it arises from the fact that the question has never been brought prominently to the notice of the landlords. It is provided by the Bill that if one-sixth of the cottagers in any parish in England want allotments upon fair and reasonable terms and cannot obtain them, and there is land in the parish available for the purpose, they shall be entitled to make a representation to that effect to the County Authorities. Thereupon, it will become the duty of the County Authorities to make inquiries; and if they find the representations to be borne out by fact, it becomes their duty to communicate with the different landlords, with the view of bringing about the provision of allotments for the people who require them, by agreement and by other voluntary means. There, in 99 cases out of 100, the operation of the Bill will cease, because I cannot conceive upon what grounds landlords can refuse to afford the facilities given in this Bill to the labouring population. Speaking from personal experience on the subject, it appears to me to be distinctly to the interest of the landlord to afford these facilities. They will get as good or, perhaps, better rent for the land than they would if it was let out in one large farm; and, in addition to that, there is no doubt that allotments add to the comfort of the labourers, which is a matter of no small consideration to the landlord, as the greater the comfort the greater the inducement for him to remain on the property. I cannot conceive, therefore, Sir, any reason which should induce the landowners, if the subject is brought under their notice, to be backward in providing these facilities. But, at the same time, there may be cases of failure where, in spite of these representations, these people are still without the advantages; and in that case the Bill gives power to the Local Authority to obtain the facilities by compulsory means. Now, Sir, that power, under those circumstances, may be obtained in this way. The Bill gives the same power for the purpose of obtaining land under this Act as is given under the Public Health Act, 1885. I am well aware that the fact that the power of the compulsory acquisition of land is contained in this Act at all may be a very grave and serious objection. I am willing to admit that if a Bill upon the subject could be drawn which would be thoroughly effective for its purpose without such a provision I should be the very last person in the world to propose its adoption. But, as far as I am concerned, I am not aware in what way or by what means a Bill can be drawn which will be thoroughly effective without in some way or other containing compulsory powers. The question, therefore, presents itself to my mind in this form. Either we must accept the principle of compulsion in some form, or else we must abandon the idea of legislation on the subject altogether. That being so, I confess that I have no hesitation in introducing a Bill which contains this principle; because, in the first place, I believe legislation is desirable, and if it was ever desirable at all it is especially so at the present time. I will tell the House why. During the last year or 18 months, more than in any former period, there have been a large number of agricultural labourers, in consequence of the severity and continuance of agricultural depression, out of work, more than I ever remember at any other period of my life; and, therefore, the advantages of allotments become doubly great to them. I do not say that they are out of work altogether; but there are many periods of the year, sometimes a month, sometimes three months, or six months, when labourers who used formerly to be employed all the year round are now out of work, and the House will understand that the advantages of allotments to them when they are idle are naturally and exceptionally very great. Then, again, the principle of compulsion in the acquisition of land is by no means a novel one. It has been adopted a great number of years, and everybody knows that for many public purposes land can be acquired by compulsory powers. It is a fact that even so late as last Session, when the Conservative Party were in power, an Act was passed for housing the working classes—called the Housing of the Working Classes Act, in which there were provisions giving power for the compulsory acquisition of land for the building of cottages; and "cottage," according to the definition in that Act, was to include half-an-acre of land for a garden. Therefore, there is, as a fact, absolutely and incontestably nothing new in the adoption of this principle by the Conservative Party, or by any other Party in the House. Well, now, the House is aware that where the principle of compulsion is adopted, of necessity it must be accompanied by certain safeguards; and if hon. Members will do me the favour of looking at Clause 6, they will see that I have provided that land is not to be taken for the purposes of this Act— Which forms part of any garden, park, or grounds attached to a dwelling-house, or which by reason of any special circumstances is let or capable of being let at a rent exceeding the ordinary agricultural rent of land of like quality in the same parish, or which is not situate in the same parish as that for which the allotment gardens are required. The object of that clause is to cover land which, under special circumstances, it might be undesirable to take for the purpose of allotments. Then, again, there is another limitation in Clause 16, and it is one which I think is very necessary in any measure of this kind. The object of Clause 16 is this. I think it would be most unfair and unjust to landowners generally that a speculator who may have a small strip of land should have the power of running up a number of cottages, for which he is unable to provide half-an-acre of land, in the hope that he will be able to get it from the property of his neighbours; and, therefore, I have inserted Clause 16, which provides— If, after the passing of this Act, any cottage shall be built in a parish without a sufficient garden or allotment attached to it, this Act shall not extend to authorize the compulsory acquisition of land from any person other than the owner for the time being of such cottage, for the purpose of providing an allotment garden for such cottage. In the Bill the County Authority is described in this way— County Authority means any representative County Authority that may be established in the present or any future Session of Parliament, and until the establishment of such authorities means the Justices of the Peace in Quarter or General Sessions assembled. Whenever a Local Government Bill is introduced—and I suppose it will be one of these days—the Body created by that Bill will be the authority to deal with this question, but until that time arrives, and as a temporary arrangement, I have provided in the way I have mentioned. Then comes the question of the expense of providing allotments. Well, the expenses of providing allotments are to be obtained in this way, as set forth in Clause 14— The expenses incurred by any County Authority in providing allotment gardens, or otherwise in the execution of this Act for any parish, shall be defrayed, in the first instance, out of the county rates, or out of the money borrowed on the credit of the county rate under this Act, but shall be recouped to the County Authority out of the poor rate of such parish, by such instalments, within such period, and in such manner as the County Authority may determine, and such instalment shall be from time to time levied and recovered in like manner, and with the like powers and incidents, as contributions to an ordinary county rate. Then these allotments are to be limited, according to the Bill, to half-an-acre apiece. I have put that limit in the Bill, because, as far as I am personally acquainted with the subject, it appears to me that that is the amount of land which would be most adequate to the purpose, and most convenient for those who desire to use the land. I have no bigoted opinions on that point, however; and I shall be glad to hear the opinions of others who are more capable, from experience, of forming an opinion than I am. But it was necessary to state some limit as to size, and I therefore fixed it at half-an-acre. Let me say one word more, and then I will not detain the House any longer. It may be asked when I introduce a Bill of this character—"How is it then—what have been your reasons for opposing other measures of a cognate character?" I have never been taunted with anything of the kind in my presence, but I have seen it stated that I have abandoned all my preconceived and previously expressed opinions upon this subject; but I absolutely and totally deny the statement, for which there is not a shadow of foundation, and I challenge any single person in the House or out of it to produce a single statement from any of my speeches on the subject which is not entirely and completely at one with the observations which I have made on this Bill. I did oppose a Bill upon this question the other day, but it was not because it contained the principle of compulsion. I opposed it because it dealt with an infinitely larger subject than that of allotment, and because it contained provisions giving power to the Local Authority to acquire land for the formation of small holdings to the extent of 40 acres apiece, by methods which appeared to me to be totally unworkable and impracticable, and which, if carried out, will not be to the interest of those whom it was supposed to benefit. I am sure it will be in the recollection of the House that, as far as allotments of this nature are concerned, I have never spoken except in terms which show how strongly I am in favour of the extension of the system contained in this Bill. In conclusion, I desire to add that the proposals which I have made in this Bill to-night are made solely and entirely on my own responsibility; and there is no person in the House sitting on these Benches, or those opposite me, who are committed in any way to the Bill, except those hon. Members whose names appear with mine on the back of it. I believe that there will be a general concurrence of opinion that the extension of the system of allotments throughout the country is a thing which is desirable in itself, and likely to do something, at all events, to improve the condition of the agricultural labourer. Under these circumstances, I hope the House will be disposed to give the Bill its favourable consideration, and will consent to read it a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chaplin.)

MR. ARCH (Norfolk, N.W.)

I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House has a very strong feeling for the welfare of my class; but it has surprised me that until very lately this wonderful desire to allow the labourers of the rural villages to have allotments had not been shown by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and to me it means something which I can scarcely conceive. But, Sir, I rise to oppose this Bill, because, as an agricultural labourer, I think a more flimsy or more worthless Bill was never introduced into this House. It is an insult and a mockery to us. In fact, I do not consider it worth the paper it is printed on. Now, first of all, Sir, I should like to call attention to Clause 2. It appears from the 2nd clause that if a number of labourers in a village want allotments, four ratepayers are to sign their names to apply to the authority—which, of course, the right hon. Gentleman has told us is to be the county magistrates—and these four ratepayers are to apply to the county magistrates for land if one-sixth of the people want it. Why do not the whole sixth make their applications individually? Why should it require four ratepayers, who in most cases are the shopkeepers and farmers who do not require allotments, and who may be unwilling to apply to the Local Authority? Why not leave the power to four agricultural labourers? Now, what has been done since 1882, when the Allotments Extension Bill passed this House? I think three or four were to apply to the trustee of the land, and by the Act they had a perfect right to obtain land; but we have had the utmost difficulty not only in getting the land, but in getting men to ask for it. In some instances they have been absolutely "Boycotted;" and I assert that the Ratepayer Clause in the Bill is an absolute mockery to agricultural labourers. The right hon. Gentleman has made allusion to a great body of gentlemen who have done much for us. I had the honour, the other day, of having a long interview on the subject with the Earl of Onslow. I submitted a scheme to his Lordship, which I believe will be accepted by the noblemen whom he represents. If they do accept that scheme, this Bill will be of no earthly use anywhere. The 2nd clause of this Bill tells me that if I want an allotment I have to ask somebody else to sign a paper requesting that I should have it. I believe in teaching the labourers of this country self-help; if 60 men require land let 60 men apply for it. Well, then, further on in the Bill we find that the county magistrates have the power to decide as to whether the representations are correct or not. Four agricultural labourers have to sign a requisition to the authority; the authority is the county magistrates; the county magistrates have to inquire into the case, and, if satisfied of the truth of the representation, the application can be granted. What an invidious position to place me, as a labourer, in! I have made my appeal through four men; but it happens that they are not right in the representations they make; the consequence is the magistrates say—"We have inquired into the case; we are not satisfied with the representations. Mr. Arch, you shall have no land." I say again, it is a mock benefit offered to my class. Then we have another very important clause—Clause 8. The cottager's allotment garden provided by the County Authority will not exceed half-an-acre, and the person shall not hold more than one allotment. Supposing I am fortunate enough to get half-an-acre, and my next-door neighbour has half-an-acre; my neighbour leaves the parish or dies; his half-acre of land nobody cares to take; his widow does not care to cultivate it, perhaps, because it is too large, and I ask may I have it? No, says the right hon. Gentleman in his Bill.


Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will allow me to explain. I took great care, in moving the second reading, to say it was necessary to put in some provision as to the size of the allotment; but I added that I was not in any way committed to the size of the allotments, and I was most anxious to hear the opinions of practical men like the hon. Gentleman.


Of course, I accept the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman; but I am sure he will pardon me for making my point distinct. The clause provides that the allotment shall not exceed half-an-acre, and that one person shall not hold more than one half-acre at a time. On reading the clause I naturally came to the conclusion that if I had an opportunity of taking a second allotment, if I could make £5 off half-an-acre, and if another half-acre was lying idle, and I could make another £5 off it, the Bill prevents me doing so. I am quite pleased to think the right hon. Gentleman has improved so very much in his views regarding the agricultural labourer. Now, Clause 9 provides that no building of any description shall be erected upon the allotment and used as a dwelling-house or workshop. I should have liked very much that this clause had been much more definite. For instance, my experience, and that of thousands of labourers, has been that when allotments have been asked for they have been generally allotted a mile, or a mile and a-half, or two miles from the village in which the labourer lived. Very well, may I not put up a pigstye upon my allotment, or am I not to be allowed to erect a toolhouse? Am I to be obliged to carry my tools night and morning a mile and a-half each way? Am I not to be allowed to put up any building without the authority having power to pull it down and sell the materials? I say the Bill is a monstrous insult to my class; and I must oppose it strenuously. [A laugh.] You may laugh; but I am speaking the voice of thousands of agricultural labourers who have returned hon. Members to this House.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon. If he will read the clause again he will see that— No building is to be erected as a dwelling-house or workshop. A pigstye will scarcely come within that definition.


I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me when I said I wanted the clause more definite.


It is quite definite—"dwelling house or workshop."


"No building of any description"—[Cries of "Read on!"] I will accept the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, and pass to Clause 11. By this clause it is provided that the County Authority having the management of these allotments shall have the power of adjusting the rents. Now, the Earl of Onslow has distinctly laid it down in his allotment scheme that the land shall be let at the same rent that agricultural land in the district fetches. Nothing of the sort is incorporated in this Bill. [Mr. CHAPLIN: Yes, it is.] There is no fixity of rent. [Mr. CHAPLIN: Clause 10.] Clause 10 does not say the land shall be let at the same rent that agricultural land in the district fetches; but Clause 11 gives the authority the right to adjust the rents. Does it or does it not give the authority power, if they think fit, to raise my rent?


May I explain? By the Bill allotments are to be acquired by the Local Authority, and the Local Authority are then to let them to agricultural labourers at a rent not exceeding the ordinary fair agricultural rent of the land of the same quality in the district.


I accept the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman; but I certainly must, in justice to my class, move that this Bill be read a second time on this day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Arch.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

MR. BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)

I find myself on this occasion taking the same side as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Arch); but I am afraid I shall oppose the Bill from a point of view which will scarcely be so popular on the Ministerial side of the House as the point of view of the hon. Member. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin), in moving the second reading, said he had no doubt that the principle of compulsion, as here introduced, would be a very great objection in the minds of many Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side of the House to the Bill. I do not know how it may be viewed by other hon. Members; but I am bound to say that upon all platforms in agricultural constituencies I have always maintained that the principle of compulsion ought not to be incorporated in our system unless it could be shown that there was good reason for the incorporation, and that view I feel myself obliged to hold here on these Benches. Sir, I should not offer any obstinate resistance to the broad principle of compulsion if it were shown that there was a necessity for the compulsory principle being applied on account of landlords and possessors of land declining to let their land upon reasonable terms in any large quantity. I do not think that has been proved. All the evidence we have tends to show that the allotment system is extending; and, so far as I can find out, there are no cases where men are unable to obtain allotments at reasonable rents. I do not mean to say there are no individual cases; but there are no counties, taken as a whole, in respect of which it can be said that labourers are unable to obtain allotments. I think that is a fair statement of the case. ["No!"] Hon. Gentlemen will have an opportunity in a moment of pointing out where I am wrong. I do not propose to speak at any length upon this Bill; but there is one clause I should like to mention, a clause which seems to me to be very objectionable, and in regard to which I think I shall have the sympathy of hon. Members on that side of the House. It is the clause which provides that allotments are to be let to the labourer with the rates and so forth already paid. Now, I should like to remind hon. Members that we are all looking forward—all of us on this side of the House as well as all on that side—to the time when we shall have an improved system of local government, a system under which every man will have a share in the representation and responsibility. Personally, I trust to see the new system speedily adopted; but I am bound to say I do not think it will be right that those men who do not pay a share of the rates should have a direct share in the government of a locality. That will separate responsibility from power; and I maintain that is not a sound principle to adopt. It is perfectly true that as a rule, in the cases contemplated by this Bill, rates are paid by the landlords; but this clause would prevent the landlord transferring the rates to the occupier if, in the event I have indicated, it should be desirable to do so. These are, briefly, the objections I have to this measure, and I felt I ought to give expression to them.

MR. JOHNS (Warwick, Nuneaton)

We have heard from the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Arch) that this is certainly not a Bill that will satisfy the agricultural labourers. We may take him as, perhaps, the best exponent in the House of the feelings of the agricultural labourers, and do that without any disparagement whatever to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) who introduced this measure. There are, in my opinion, a great many clauses in this Bill that would be very harassing to the agricultural labourer. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of fair and reasonable terms; but the fair and reasonable terms are to be decided by the Justices of the Peace of the county. [Mr. CHAPLIN: That is only a temporary arrangement.] My experience during the last Election leads me to believe that if we were to adopt this Bill it would be very much like handing over the lambs to the wolves. To that I cannot be a party. But the question is one which interests a great many Members who are not present to-night; and, therefore, I think the best thing to do, considering the hour (1.35) at which we are now sitting, is to adjourn the debate. I, therefore, beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Johns.)

LORD WILLIAM COMPTON (Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon)

I am very anxious, Sir, to support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. It seems to me that the Bill, as brought in by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin), will not only not satisfy the agricultural labourers——


The noble Lord is not able to speak on the Main Question. The Question before the House is the adjournment of the debate.


I venture to make an appeal to the House. I think it would be very undesirable at this hour of the morning that the debate upon this Bill should be adjourned, especially when I am sure the House perceives that no adequate reasons have been offered by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Johns) who moved the adjournment, or the noble Lord (Lord William Compton) who supported it, for the adoption of such a course. If it were in Order for me to do so—of course, it is not in Order, therefore I shall not attempt it—it would be the easiest thing in the world to shatter the reasons given against the Bill so far. There may be good reasons to be advanced against the Bill and in favour of the adjournment; but I submit, with all deference and respect to the House, that we have not heard one single word yet which would justify us in assenting to the adjournment of the debate. That being the case, I shall most certainly oppose the Motion for the adjournment. If it be carried, I hope those who are chiefly interested in the Bill—the agricultural labourers—will thoroughly appreciate the action of their professed Friends in endeavouring to defeat the measure.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 106; Noes 91: Majority 15.—(Div. List, No. 103.)

Debate adjourned till Monday next.

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