§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Bill re-committed in respect of a new clause (Use of schoolroom free of charges).
§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ (6.10.) THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. LONG,) Wilts, Devizes
I move this new clause in redemption of a promise made when the Bill was in Committee that facilities should be given for the holding of meetings for allotment purposes. It is not so extensive as an Amendment for a similar purpose in the name of the hon. Member for North Bucks, but I think if the Committee will look at it the clause does make the necessary provision for a meeting place.
Any room in a school receiving a grant out of moneys provided by Parliament may, except during ordinary school hours, be used free of charge for the purpose of an inquiry under this Act, by the County Council or any Committee appointed under this Act; but any damage done to the room and any expense incurred by the person or persons having control over the room on account of its being so used shall he paid by the County Council,
—brought up and read the first and second time.
§ (6.12.) MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
I move an Amendment in no hostile spirit to the present proposal, nor do I, by raising a dilatory Debate, wish to hinder the progress of the Bill through the House. It is needless for me to say that I share the opinion of many Members on this side that the Act of 1887, with this amending Act, is unsatisfactory and incomplete, and will rather tend to delay the settlement of the Allotments question in a broad and statesmanlike manner. But I have never sought to hinder this or similar measures on behalf of the bulk of my constituents, nearly all of whom are of the agricultural class. I have welcomed any measure, however incomplete, that would tend to improve the meagre income of the agricultural labourer, or alleviate his sometimes very hard lot 86 Hon. Members will not be surprised that I have put down an Amendment for the purpose of somewhat widening the effect of the clause, and, as I think, of improving it in the direction I have before advocated. For five years past, in this and the preceding Parliament, I have sought by Bill, Resolution, and conversations in Supply to try to persuade the Government and the House to adopt the principle that the village schoolroom should be open to the use of the ratepayers for local or national purposes, because I have felt it right that the ratepayers, who contribute towards the maintenance of the building, should have the use of it as occasion arises. There can be no doubt that a great necessity arises in villages for the use of such a large room on certain occasions. I am sure those who have contested rural constituencies since the Act of 1883 first called the rural population to the councils of the nation, must have been impressed with the necessity of a room of the kind for public meetings. As a rule there is no other building but the schoolroom available. In my own constituency, in some 80 villages, there are not more than four or five places where a room can be found for public meetings and we were plunged into dire necessity to find places to speak in. Bat the gesture of the Chairman warns me that I must not pursue these remarks. The object of my Amendment is not, of course, to hold political meetings, but in order that inhabitants of a village may have a place to hold their meetings, and discuss questions having reference to allotments. The necessity exists for such a place of meeting, for discussing matters affecting the public interest of the locality, ratepayers have a claim for the use of these buildings, and I go further, and say that in various Acts Parliament has conceded the right. The Parliamentary Elections Act of 1872 authorises the use of such schools for polling places, and there is in the words of the 6th Section an indication of why Parliament made this provision by reference to "any school receiving grants out of moneys provided by Act of Parliament," and in the opinion of Mr. Forster, expressed at the time, "it is no more than fair that the school room should be so used." In my opinion this amounts to a recognition of 87 the claim that ratepayers have upon the use of the schoolroom. This right was further confirmed by the Allotments Act of 1887.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
It may, perhaps, save the hon. Member a long speech if I presume to interrupt him, and say that we are prepared to agree to his Amendment in this form, "or for the purpose of holding any public meeting necessary under this Act."
§ MR. H. GARDNER
I am afraid I could not accept that Amendment. It is obvious that any meeting necessary under the Act is restrictive, and goes little beyond the clause as it is. I have in view meetings not necessary under the Act, but meetings of those interested in having the Act in operation, or desirous of representing their views as to the desirability of taking certain land for allotments. I was referring to the Allotments Act of 1887 in support of my contention that Parliament has recognised the right of the ratepayers to the use of the village schoolroom for meetings for local or national purposes. I mention this because it has been contended that in the Parliamentary Elections Act the State exercised a supreme right, and appropriated the schools for a national or Imperial purpose, but by the Allotments Act Parliament admitted that schools should be used for local purposes also. In the same sense is the clause now before us, and which I want to widen. It is obvious that for the actual purposes of the Act the school must be availed of, the inhabitants having no other place for public meeting. I am perfectly willing to accept any Amendment which will not defeat the object I have, that the ratepayers should have the right to use the schoolroom for the purpose of discussing any proposition in relation to the Act. I am ready to provide that such meetings shall be convened by not less than two ratepayers of the parish in which the school is situated, and that these shall be responsible for any damage to the room. I think I have made my meaning clear, and need not detain the Committee further. I only wish to impress upon the Government the importance of this matter in rural districts, and I shall certainly, if it is resisted, carry my Amendment to a Divi- 88 sion. Let me point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who represent agricultural constituencies, and make suave speeches I to their constituents, that by voting I against this Amendment they will be practically closing the mouths of rural communities, and preventing the carrying out of the Act.
In line 6, after the word "Act," to insert the words "or for the purpose of holding public meetings to discuss propositions as to allotments under this Act."—[Mr. H. Gardner.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (6.27.) MR. LONG
The suggestion made by my right hon. Friend was not with any intention of limiting meetings to be held for the purpose of arriving at conclusions with reference to allotments, and the clause is brought forward in no niggardly spirit. We have no desire to prevent the fullest inquiry and discussion locally into allotment questions. I accept the spirit of the Amendment, although I think that its words are too vague, and require modification. I trust that it may be possible for the hon. Member, or the Committee, to frame an Amendment which shall express more clearly the meaning we are all agreed upon.
§ (6.30.) MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
I congratulate the Government on the reasonable manner in which they meet this proposal. I think it very important that some such arrangement as is here suggested should be arrived at, and that my hon. Friend would do well if he would accept the offer made by the Government.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
I accept the proposition made by the Government, and will, therefore, withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
(6.31.) Amendment proposed,
In line 5, after the word "Act" to insert the words, "or for the purpose of holding public meetings to discuss any question relating to allotments under this Act or the principal Act."—(Mr. H. Gardner.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR W. PLOWDEN (Wolverhampton, W.)
I do not think that the proposed addition to the clause will exactly meet what is wanted, as it would only give power to the County Council, or to any 89 Committees appointed under the Act, to make use of the rooms.
§ MR. COBB (Warwick, S. E., Rugby)
Do these words include the principal Act? I do not think they do, and I think the principal Act ought to be inserted.
MR. BARING (London)
I must protest against the way in which this question has been raised. The claim now made is based on the ground of the interest of the ratepayers in the school buildings; but a large majority of the schools are voluntary schools, to which the ratepayers contribute nothing whatever. The Government, however, seem to be so enamoured of surrender that I am not surprised at their giving way. It is not conducive to the peace of a parish that its schools should be liable to the incursion of any agitator who might choose to stir up perfectly contented villagers to demand allotments.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
A certain number of meetings will be absolutely necessary under the Bill—meetings at which the labourers may have the opportunity of fairly considering the proposals they wish to submit to the Local Authorities.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I do not believe that the managers of any of the voluntary schools would be narrow minded enough to object to the clause, as amended.
§ *MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I may state in illustration of the advantage of this proposal that in my own village meetings have been held for the formation of an association to carry out this object, and they have met with the co-operation of the Conservative Governors of the school.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, added to the Bill, and reported.
§ Bill, as amended, considered.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 3, page 2, line 22, to leave out the word "may" and insert the word "shall"—(Mr. Long.)
§ MR. STEPHENS (Hornsey)
I think it a very ungracious and unnecessary thing to over-ride the discretion of the County Councils in this matter. It is impossible for us to judge of all circum- 90 stances in different parts of the country where the County Councils have to act, and surely we may trust them to do their duty without fettering their discretion in this way.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Other Amendments made.
§ Motion made, and Question, proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."
§ *MR. CHANNING
I do not wish to raise any objection to the Third Reading of the Bill. Hon. Members on this side have taken no objection to the Bill itself. The object of the Instructions we put OIL the Paper has been simply to prove that this question will never be satisfactorily settled until other matters which the: Government have not seen fit to introduce into the Bill have been embodied in an Act of Parliament.
§ MR. J. COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
I must congratulate the Government on having passed this Bill. I am certain it will prove a great relief from existing difficulties and be the means of facilitating the operation of the existing law so as to prove an immense boon to a large number of people.
§ CAPTAIN VERNEY (Bucks, N.)
And I, Sir, have to express my absolute uncertainty on the same subject.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.