§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *(6.12.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
In asking the House to give a favourable consideration to this Bill, I wish to say that the Government have not introduced it because in their opinion the original Act has worked at all badly. It has been assumed by several critics that the Allotments Act has not fulfilled the expectation of its authors, because its compulsory clauses have not been put in force. In the discussion on the Amendment of the Member for Halifax to the Address, one of the speakers said that the Act had failed because these clauses had not been used. Not only do we not admit that argument as sound, but I absolutely and entirely deny the statement. It was right and proper that the compulsory clauses should have been introduced into the original Act, and I do not say that without those compulsory clauses the Act would have been successful, but it was far from our belief, or indeed our desire, that allotments under the Act should be obtained by the machinery of the compulsory clauses. In fact, those who remember the debate that took place on the Second Reading, will remember that it was stated on behalf of the Government, again and again, that our desire was that allotments should be provided by means of voluntary action, and our reason was this, that the good feeling that exists, and should exist, between labourers and landlords, would continue, and be promoted by means of voluntary action between the parties, and I do not think that that good feeling would be properly maintained or promoted if it were necessary that allotments should be provided under compulsion. Now, it must be remembered that the Allotments Act of 1887 was by no means the beginning of the provision of allotments. The system of providing allotments by voluntary arrangements existed to a remarkable degree in all parts of the country at the time of the passing of that Act, and the Act was intended to promote that system which already existed. It has been said that no action has been taken by the Local Authorities so far as the compulosry, clauses of this Act are concerned, but it will not be denied that since the passing of that Act, a very large number of allotments have been provided, either by I means of voluntary arrangements between 1725 the labourer and the landowner, or between the Sanitary Authority and the landowner. Still it must, on the other hand, be admitted that, successful as has been the Act in this respect, there have been instances in which the Sanitary Authorities have not met the demand made on them by labourers in particular districts, and we know that some people who do not desire that the Government should receive the credit of this legislation, are glad to seize hold of these hard cases with a view to showing that the Act has not had due operation. It is with a view of providing some means by winch these hard cases may be met, and this unsatisfactory decision of a Local Authority revised, that we seek to institute the appeal set out in this Bill. When the Act was passed County Councils were not in existence, and if we had set up a Court of Appeal we should have had to set up a Central Authority, the Local Government Board. I am satisfied that in a matter of this kind, whatever there may J be said about there being a Court of Appeal in the Local Government Board upon other matters—I am satisfied that tin; Local Government Board or any other Central Authority would be un-suited to be a Court of Appeal, and would be totally unable to act as such. But now that we have set up County Councill it seems tome they are, essentially, the proper body with whom an appeal should be. They are elected on a broad franchise which we know the Sanitary Authority is not. We have never pretended that we were entirely satisfied with the constitution of such a body for such a work, but they were the only Local Authority which had the power to act. We had hoped that at no distant date properly elected Councils would be set up and that these would prove to hon. Gentlemen a more acceptable Authority. But we propose, under the Bill, to give an appeal to County Councils. It will be observed that in the Bill we propose that an application should be made to the County Council by six persons qualified to make the re presentation in the first place if the Sanitary Authority has failed to provide allotments under the I Act where allotments are required. The County Council may then hold an inquiry, being satisfied that allotments ought to be provided, and may instruct the Local Authority to put the Act into 1726 execution. Certain times are laid down in the Bill within which the Local Authority must take action in order to provide the allotments which the County Council have declared to be necessary. It has been represented to me, however, that after the inquiry of the County Council there may be much delay owing to correspondence and negotiations between the County Council and the Sanitary Authority. I have realised the force of this objection, and therefore I shall propose in Committee to introduce Amendments which will have the effect of obviating all such delay. The Bill, as I propose to amend it, will provide that the parties aggrieved shall make a representation to the County Council, that the County Council shall appoint a committee ad hoc to hold the inquiry, and that if that Committee is satisfied that allotments are required, which the Sanitary Authorities will not provide, then that the powers of the Sanitary Authorities shall pass to the County Council, which shall have power to direct such allotments as are necessary. I hope the House will see by this Amendment we pro] lose that we are anxious to make this a, really workable and useful Bill. I do not think the Local Authority can feel aggrieved under any circumstances, for the application will have been made to them, and the County Council inquiry will have shown that the Local Authority failed to do that which the Act called on them to do. The plan we propose will avoid the delay that might otherwise occur owing to friction between the County Council and the Sanitary Authority, for it would not be reasonable to suppose, human nature being as it is, that the latter, when overruled by the former, would be very eager to carry out the directions they received. I desire, in conclusion, to make an appeal to the House to allow this Bill to become law as soon as possible, having regard to the fact that, whatever opinions may be held with regard to the provisions of the original Act, this proposed Amendment will facilitate its operations.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ (6.27.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
The Motion of the right hon. Gentleman is one which I receive with a 1727 considerable amount of regret—regret because I look on this as a wasted opportunity on the part of the Government. They passed an Allotments Act in the year 1887, which has not proved satisfactory to the agricultural population of the country, and I had hoped, when the announcement was made that an Amendment Bill was to be introduced this year, that an opportunity would have been taken of trying to meet the bitter cry of the agricultural labourers for land to enable them to supplement their scanty incomes. The present policy of the Government is practically a confession of the failure of the Act of 1887. The Act has tailed, or they would not want to amend it; and there is practically a confession of failure in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, for he has given an indication of Amendments to this Amending Bill. In order to understand what we want in the way of Amendment to the Allotments Act we should consider for a moment how that Act has failed. In the first place, it has failed because, contrary to the advice tendered from this side of the House, the working of it was placed in the hands of authorities who will not exercise their power. The Boards of Guardians, we told the Government, were about the worst authorities in the kingdom to work the Allotments Act for the benefit of agricultural labourers, and the experience we have had of the measure has proved the truth of those words up to the hilt. The whole tendency of events has been to show the unwillingness of Boards of Guardians to come to the rescue of agricultural labourers. The object of this Bill is to give an appeal to the County Councils in regard to the work which the Boards of Guardians have failed to do. But the logical sequence, it seems to me, would be to alter the character of the initial authority; and until that is done, I do not think we can have a satisfactory working of the Allotments Act. We ought to have an authority who can be directly called upon by the agricultural labourers—a body responsible to the rural distircts, and representative, such as a Parish or District Council. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board and his Colleagues have put back that ne- 1728 cessary and very salutary reform, but until we have this body, we shall find no authority who will work the Allotments Act as it ought to be worked. The difficulty in working the Act arises, in the first place, from the fact that it is necessary to get six inhabitants of a rural district, six ratepayers or electors, to move in the matter. That is a difficulty at the outset, and the burden imposed on six ratepayers by the original Act is also contained in the amending Bill. In some districts the ratepayers are unwilling to come forward. One man wrote to me soon after the Act of 1887 was passed, and said—In this place and a few villages around, the labourers are getting only 10s. a week, and have not a yard of ground. What I do, I shall have to do under cover, else out I go.That is the feeling the agricultural labourers have as to taking the first step with the Boards of Guardians. In North Buckinghamshire we have the same cry. The labourers say the Rural Sanitary Authorities are against us, and the "six electors or ratepayers who petition the Rural Sanitary Authority are necessarily bold men. In the present state of the labour market one man or another is of no moment to the farmer, the disaffected have to go." The cry is the same in the Midland Counties, and the consequence is that in scores of cases, where the demand is as great, as ever, no application is made because the men are afraid to move. Another reason why the Act does not work is the enormous amount of time it takes to put it into operation. In Twyford, in North Bucks, one of the many insanitary villages in England, the labourers endeavoured, in October, 1887, to get some land for allotments, and their application was supported by the vicar of the parish. The endeavour to obtain voluntary allotments failed, and on January 5, 1889, or 15 months after the original application, the Local Authority passed, by a majority of two, a resolution in favour of compulsorily acquiring the land. The President of the Local Government Board, to his credit, exorcised some pressure upon them; but in August the Local Authority, by a majority of one, rescinded their resolution to proceed by compulsory purchase and the thing was thrown back. An election came on, and hon. Gentlemen 1729 opposite said, "Oh, we will amend the Act: it does not work." The men had waited two years without any sign until then, when they were told that the Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, would give them allotments voluntarily. But the moment they came to close quarters the whole thing disappeared. A sum of £800 was asked for the land, which was an enormous price. The Local Authorities thought that the outside price they ought to be asked to pay-was £600. Thus it is found when the Local Authority comes to purchase that they have to give such a heavy price that it will not pay the agricultural labourer to take it off their hands to cultivate it himself. That is one illustration of the slow methods by which the original Act, that the present Act is to amend, proceeds on its way. Hut there was a similar case in the village of Brailes, in Warwickshire. There also is a very-earnest desire on the part of the labourers to get allotments: they have been paying £6 an acre for land similar to that which in farms is let for £2, and though they have been calling for allotments for two years, the Local Authority has not succeeded in getting land to satisfy them. There was another case at Axbridge, where the question of calling in the aid of the County Council was considered at a meeting of the Local Authority. A clergyman, a member of the Board said at that meeting that it would take two or three years before the County Council could be brought into action, and another member of the Board said he did not wonder that the Radicals called the Act a sham. Well, it has been so called in this House, and I think as regards the starving agricultural labourers, they have very little doubt that it is a sham. The clerk at the meeting of the Local Authority at Axbridge expressed the hope that the Authority would consider the expense, and the Board finally came to the conclusion that as it would take more than £4 10s per acre to cover the expenses, it would not pay to give the labourers the land. This excessive cost is due to the complicated machinery of the Act. In my own constituency, at Long Baton, with a Local Board anxious to carry out the Act, the people there have only obtained land after 15 or 16 months' struggling, and have obtained it on such conditions of compensation to the 1730 previous occupant that the rent is far higher than it ought to be or than it would have been under an Act that worked easily. This illustrates how slow and cumbersome is the movement of the original Act. I now come to another point, cases in which the land was obtained by agreement, purchased by agreement under the Act of which several instances have been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie).
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I did not go into that point at all. I said that many allotments had been obtained, some by voluntary arrangement and others by arrangement between the Local Authority and the landowner.
§ * SIR W. FOSTER
I quite understand that, and I asked questions in the House last year on the subject. I am aware that there were five cases of the purchase of land by agreement between the Local Sanitary Authority and landowners under the Act.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I repeatedly stated in this House, again and again, in answer to those questions, that where a voluntary arrangement was made it did not go before the Local Sanitary Authority at all, and that it was only when the Local Board had authority to borrow money for the purchase of land that it came before the Local Government Board.
§ * SIR W. FOSTER
I quite understand that. I am driving at that point. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has no records of the allotments given over by the owners at the request of the Local Sanitary Authorities. He has been asked again and again to give the House the numbers of these, and he has always declared his inability to do so. But what I am referring to is this, that in certain cases by voluntary arrangement between the Local Sanitary Authority and the owner, land has been purchased and a loan obtained with the sanction of the Local Government Board, up to last year there were five of such cases, and probably there has been one other since. That has been the result of the purchase of land, over the whole of broad England, to benefit the labourers under this Act. Now, what has been the upshot of the purchase of that land? In one case, at Cricklade, 12 acres of land have been purchased for £1,350, and in another case, at Croydon, 10 acres, of which eight acres are available for allot- 1731 ments, have been purchased for £2,850. At Holbeach Union 14 acres of land were purchased for £950; at Market Bosworth 41 acres of land were purchased at £2,200, and in the Holbeach Sanitary district £750 was paid for the purchase of some 11 acres of land for allotments, so that the whole 89 acres were bought at the rate of about £90 an acre on the average, and that was to be let to agricultural labourers at a rent at which they had to make it pay for themselves and their families! In the Market Bosworth Union, land was purchased at a place called Ibstock, by the Local Sanitary Board, by means of a loan allowed by the Local Government Board, and 40 acres were got for the people of that district. But we find that in that particular place there wore no less than 256 people wanting land, and the Local Authority, with the sanction of the Local Government Board, was enabled only to make 138 allotments for the 256 people who applied, and that division of 40 acres resulted in each person getting about one-third of an acre. That is a very unsatisfactory result, even where the land has been purchased at a comparatively moderate price. Let us take another case of a similar kind, at Whaplode. The people there made a strong representation, and the Local Authority was willing to buy land for them. Now, I am taking the case as samples of the success of the Act. Well, what occurred at Whaplode? The labourers proposed to pay £3 10s. an acre, inclusive of rates and taxes. The Sanitary Board got land at £67 an acre, but when they came to the labourers, the former offer of £3 10s. an acre was ignored, and the labourers wore asked to pay £4 10s. instead—£1 more than their offer. That rent was enough to break the back of an agricultural labourer, and to break the heart of many a man who had been looking forward to the Act as a means of bettering the condition of his wife and children. What was the result? The labourers declared that they could not take the land, and the Rural Sanitary Authority found them selves in the position of having bought land which the labourers were unwilling to take. That is another illustration of how the Act fails to satisfy the legitimate expectations of those poor men who want to add to their weekly earnings. These cases, 1732 I think, illustrate the failure of the Act, even in the direction where purchase by agreement has been arrived at. It has been said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the benefits of the Act are very large, and that it has been of great advantage to the agricultural labourers, because it has compelled the landlords to offer land voluntarily. I do not think that the Act has had any effect on the landlords. I believe that a large number of land owners have provided allotments since the passing of the Act, but they have not done so in consequence of the Act, which is nothing more than a brutum fulmen that is incapable of frightening anybody. The landlords have done so because they are awakening to the importance of the agitation for, and to the necessity of providing, allotments. They recognise it as part of their duty as landowners to give the people working on their estates the opportunity of earning a little money by letting them have a little land for themselves. Certain County Councils throughout the country have reported on this subject, and they do not support the contention of the right hon. Gentleman as to the great number of allotments which have come into use during the working of the Act. The Cambridgeshire County Council, which, from what I know of its constitution, is not likely to err in favour of the labourers, has made an inquiry, and, out of 33 divisions of the county, has obtained Returns from 26. Only in 14 of the divisions were the allotments found to be sufficient; and in two of these divisions the allotments were recently created. In 12 divisions the allotments were admittedly insufficient; and two Local Sanitary Authorities had refused the prayer of the labourers to put the Act into operation. In Leicester the County Council report that 309 applications have been made for allotments, but only 141 have been granted. In Suffolk a Committee of the County Council presided over by the hon. Member for Sudbury (Mr. Quilter), made an inquiry and found that the allotments in 1887, before the passing of the Act, amounted to 5,628; whilst in 1889 the number was only 6,413. In 2,215 cases it was reported that cottages were without gardens. And yet hon. hon. Gentlemen boast that the Act gives labourers the opportunity of securing land wherever they want it. 1733 I think the figures I have given are sufficient to show their boasts are unjustifiable. The effect of the Act on the agricultural population has been extremely disappointing. I have held conferences, in connection with the Allotments Association, with the labourers in different parts of the country, and they have expressed only one opinion as to the difficulty, almost the impossibility, of getting land from the owners or the Rural Sanitary Authority under the Act. They unity in declaring that the Act has been of no value to them. The great mass of the agricultural labourers do not want allotments by voluntary arrangement with the landlords. They want to be independent. Many a poor man receives notice to quit from his allotment and his home if he does not vote with the landlord. We wish to make it impossible for any landowners, whether Radical or Tory, to intimidate the men who have houses and homes to quit at a week's notice, a condition of things unhappily too frequent.
§ * SIE W. FOSTER
I will give no instance. I know the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will support me in my refusal. He has refused to give names in cases in Ireland on the ground that the people would be boycotted. I decline to give names for the same reason. I will not expose those unfortunate men to the vindictiveness of the landholder. We say you must give the labourers independence and security of tenure. If this be done, we believe their prosperity and the prosperity of the country will be increased. We demand for the agricultural labourer something better than this amending Bill, which only practically tinkers an Act which has been found to be inefficient. It is putting another patch on an ill-fitting garment. Something more than that is needed, and I regret that the Government have not seen their way to go further in their endeavours to amend the Bill so as to make it more easily worked and more useful to a long-suffering class of men.
§ * SIR B. BIRKBECK (Norfolk, E.)
I am sorry entirely to differ from the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. Speaking for the county of Norfolk, I unhesitatingly declare that a very large number of allotments have been granted, 1734 and the very fact of the Act being passed has to a considerable extent increased the demand for allotments. I know that not only the agricultural labourers but many of the artisan class are grateful to the Government for the Act of 1887; but I am bound to say, that as regards the working of the Act, and I desire to be perfectly frank in the matter, I have found many difficulties. I will quote one case in which the Sanitary Authority was applied to two years ago, but unfortunately it took no active steps in the matter. Time after time I brought the matter to their notice, and, after a lapse of two years, they did me the honour of appointing me a, member of the Allotment Committee. That was within the last two or three months, and I may state there are to my knowledge some 30 cases in the parish in question in which the cottages have no gardens, and the very fact of this Bill being introduced had the immediate effect of inducing the Sanitary Authority to change their minds and pass a unanimous resolution in favour of putting the compulsory powers of the Act of 1887 in force. Therefore, I hope hon. Members will not say that the Bill of my right hon. Friend was going to be useless. Nevertheless, the question of purchasing land has not cropped up to the extent I anticipated, although the hiring of land has been more largely entertained. I should have been glad if the useful provisions suggested by the hon. Member for South Sussex in his Bill of last Session, could have been utilised so as to have given further facilities in this direction, but I am clear that the working of the Act of 1887 will never be thoroughly satisfactory until we have obtained District Councils. When District Councils are established, I believe that all the existing difficulties will be overcome. I hope that it will be admitted by hon. Members opposite that there is at least one Member on this side,—and, in my belief, there are a great many—who is in favour of District Councils, if only for the purpose of working the Allotments Question. There is one point I feel bound to mention, and that is, that in addition to agricultural labourers, there are a great many others who are desirous of obtaining allotments, and I am sorry to say have been debarred from obtaining them by various 1735 reasons. Speaking of ray own Division of the County of Norfolk, I may state that there are some 20 miles of seaboard along which are scattered a large number of fishermen, and coastguards-men, and others, who have no allotments, and have great difficulties thrown in their way if they wish to obtain them, for my part, I do not see why that class of men, and many others, should not have allotments as well as the farm labourers. I am sorry that we are unable to obtain authentic statistics with regard to the allotments granted since the passing of the Act of 1887. But I believe that they at least treble the number the Government have any idea of. I only wish there were means of obtaining official and trustworthy statistics on this subject, but at the present time there are none. I am quite certain, so far as the labourers are concerned, that they are grateful to the Government for what they are doing in introducing this measure, and will be still more grateful when District Councils are established under which the Allotment provisions may be still better worked.
§ *(7.5.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Cirencester)
I am unwilling to have it said that I share in any reckless opposition to the good intentions of the Government to patch up their Act of 1887. After all, we are getting along. It is not so very long since, in 1885, on every platform those who advocated allotments were stigmatised as advocates of the principles of plunder enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) and the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings). It is not so long since we heard after the Election of 1885, from the new Minister of Agriculture, something about "that blessed word compulsion" as applied to the provision of allotments, and now a better feeling has cropped up with regard to the subject. It was once the fashion to deny it; but when people come calmly to make the inquiry, they found that the wages of the agricultural labourer were not only as low as 10s., but frequently as low as 8s. or 9s. per week, and that there was nothing the labourer so much desired to alleviate his hard lot as access to a bit of the land of his 1736 own country. We told you that your Act of 1887 had one radical defect, in consequence of which it would not work; that defect being that what was the mainspring of the Act did not want to work. I allude to the Boards of Guardians, to whom the working of the Act was intrusted. They have thrown every obstacle in the way, and in hardly an instance have they spontaneously or willingly set the Act in motion for the benefit of the labourers. I agree in almost every word that has fallen from the hon. Member who has just spoken. I would, however, say that it is not the Act of 1887 that has doubled the number of the labourers' allotments; rather is it the fact that the labourers have now got votes, and the results that have been exhibited at' the bye-elections. Hon. Members find that if they desire the support of the agricultural labourers at election times they must think of the wants and needs of the labourers before the election comes! This Bill, as explained by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, is a little better than appears on the face of it. When I read it I was inclined to throw it down in disgust, because it seemed to provide for long, dreary processes of waiting six months here and six months there, during which the heads of the labourers would be growing grey. But what the right hon. Gentleman has stated this evening makes, I gladly admit, a great difference in the measure. He proposes to allow six labourers to appeal direct to the County Council, which is an Elected Body for which the labourers have votes. The County Councils are in some sympathy with the labourers, and I understand they may pass the Boards of Guardians by altogether and take up and carry through the work which they have neglected. The friends of the agricultural labourer will, however, never be satisfied until the acquisition of land for allotment purposes is made easy, quick, and economical. The labourers freqently hold their cottages subject to weekly notice to quit, and they want to obtain allotments from some authority that will not be able to exercise any such undue influence upon them. I welcome this part of the Bill as a great improvement on the Act of 1887, and I appeal to hon. Members opposite to assist in passing Amendments-which will 1737 make the measure satisfactory. I hope it will be made to fulfil the conditions I have laid down; and I shall vote for the Second Reading with this hope.
§ *(7.12.) SIR W. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North-West)
I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Winterbotham) has approached this question with so much fairness and candour; and I think that if other speakers on the same side had followed the same course, it would have been much better; but I certainly was sorry to hear the observations of the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Sir W. Foster), who endeavoured to make out that we on this side care nothing for the interest of the agricultural labourer. If there is anybody who ought to care, and who does care for the agricultural labourers, it is those who have been connected with him during the whole course of their lives, who have seen them grow up, and who have always been ready to do their test to assist them. The landowners, the tenants, and the labourers are so bound together that it would be most unwise and foolish on our part if we did not do all we could to assist the labouring community. This is undoubtedly a question of grave importance, and it is well that we should look at it fairly and honestly. In my own part of the country I have always made inquiries, when I have a farm to let, if any allotments are required, and should always reserve a field for that purpose if necessary. On one occasion I reserved a field of 14 acres, and divided it out into suitable lots. I had only three applications, and not one of those who applied was a labourer. The parish contains some 2,000 inhabitants. The fact is, in my own part of the country every labourer has got a good garden close to his house. I would rather give a man land close to his house, if possible, than compel him to walk a long distance to his allotment—an arrangement which, after his day's work, renders his allotment of but little benefit to him. I will only say that the Act of 1887, many as are its defects, has been of great benefit. It has stimulated many in different parts of the country who would not have been stimulated without that Act. If we could only get a good and proper return of the voluntary allotments 1738 which have teen made since the Act was passed, I think it would astonish even the hon. Gentleman for the Ilkeston Division. We know there are some few bad landlords who will not give up an acre if they can help it; but, take the average of landlords, you will find that under the circumstances of the case the Allotments Act is working well. Mention was made of Charity lands. I am the Chairman of the Trustees of certain Charity land in my neighbourhood, and I insist every year that the land of the Charity shall be offered to the labourers if they choose to take it. In that locality a common has also lately been enclosed. A piece of that ground was set apart for allotments, and not above half of it has been taken up. I merely mention these circumstances to show that if in that neighbourhood the demand was ever great there would behind to meet it. I was one of those who mentioned to my right hon. Friend that the machinery of this Bill was rather too cumbersome and might be made much quicker. He has stated to-night that he will do all in his power to make it work better and quicker. If the Local Sanitary Authority fail to do their duty, he has handed the working of the Act over to the County Council—an Elective Body; and if we had District Councils, we should possibly be able to work the Act better. But who prevented District Councils being carried? It was found that if the provisions relating to District Councils had been pressed, the Bill would not have been carried at all. For my part, I shall be glad when District Councils have the management of these things. They will be on the spot, and represent the people of the immediate localities; even more than the County Council, which has control over an extended area. When you come to the compulsory system of doing the work, I know of no one who will say more openly than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, that it ought to be entered upon carefully and considerately, and that any measure which proposes to take the land or property of anyone ought to be gravely deliberated upon. I will only say, in conclusion, that I think the Act has worked well, and that my right hon. Friend is going to make it work still more effectively in the future by the Bill now before the House.
§ (8.20.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
Sir, Her Majesty's Government have brought before Parliament to-day two Bills—one to provide for the distressed agricultural classes in Ireland; the other to satisfy the wants of the English labourer. In Ireland you are dealing with a population of some five millions; in England you are dealing with more than five times that number. I think the moral the English labourers will draw will be to contrast this Allotments Bill with the Irish Land Bill. They will say, "What have you done for Ireland, and what are you going to do for the English labourer? What are you going to do for the English labourer to satisfy the want, which he has quite as strong as any which exists in Ireland, that he shall have some right in the soil of the land which he inhabits, and that he shall have some independent title and be allowed to remain on his allotment and do what he pleases with it?" I think the melancholy contrast between this wretched Allotments Bill and the Bill which has been expounded by the Secretary for Ireland will be a text which will be preached upon very largely hereafter. It has been said that in order to make this Act work you must have District Councils. Of course you must. The Boards of Guardians do not wish to do it. The County Council are not able to do it; they have not the immediate local interest which will enable them to do it. You said you had no time last Session for District Councils. Have you any this? The time you are going to spend over the Tithes Bill and over this Allotments Bill would have enabled you to pass a District Councils Bill which would have given vitality to the whole of your local government, and which would have given satisfaction to the Rural Authorities. What does the English agricultural labourer care about your Tithes Bill? What interest has he in the more efficient exacting of tithe out of the land? When he sees day after day, and it may be week after week, expended upon the Tithes Bill, he will say why could not some of that time have been given to making District Councils, which, in the opinion of the Member for Norfolk, are the only things which can give vitality to the Allotments Bill? I must say that it seems to me an extraordinary thing that, knowing this great 1740 question agitates the agricultural labourers from one end of the country to the other, that you should throw away so vital a Session as this upon such measures as the Tithes Bill and this tinkering, paltering, wretched Allotments Bill, when you might have supplied a District Councils Bill which would have given satisfaction to the rural population of this country. No apology can be made for the insufficiency of this Bill on the ground that there was not time to have a District Councils Bill. There is abundance of time—there is the whole of the rest of this Session which is not to be devoted to the Irish Bill. It might have been devoted to an English Bill of still greater consequence than this, and far greater consequence than the Irish Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was very indignant the other night at its being supposed that popular agitation might have something to do with the introduction of political measures. I should like to know, if there had not been anything like the popular agitation which we have had in Ireland for some time past, whether there would have been an Irish Land Bill, or, if there had not been anything like the popular agitation which we have had in Wales, whether there would have been a Tithes Bill; and whether, if there had been a similar popular agitation in England, we should not have had a very different Allotments Bill to that which is now before us? The Tithes Bill and the Irish Land Bill were the results of popular agitation. And what lesson are you teaching the agricultural population of this country? That all they are to receive is such a miserable, meagre diet as you offer them in this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sussex says that country gentlemen are interested in the agricultural labourer. I have no doubt they are. But it was not until there was an Allotments Bill that they were stimulated into doing that which he says they have done. We remember how the Allotments Bill of 1887 hung fire for a long time. There was an election which brought it to the front. And when we discarded the Bill as worthless hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side on every platform said that it was a most admirable measure. It was not until after the North Buckinghamshire election that any concession was made. That election 1741 made people alive to the defects of the Bill of 1887, and so we get this amending Bill. I should like to say a word on a matter which seems to have caused some indignation to hon. Gentlemen opposite. It has been, said that we do not want any eleemosynary allotments by the landlords. Let that be perfectly clearly understood. We do not want the agricultural labourer to be dependent upon the charity of the landowner, who may give him an allotment. That is not what the agricultural labourer wants; that is not what he is entitled to. In Switzerland, where the population live upon land of their own, you will find flourishing villages in which the people, I am sorry to say, are more well-to-do, much more independent, and much better off than are the people of our English villages. The Swiss live in a climate more inclement than our own, and on a soil infinitely less productive. They live on land which is the property of the Commune, and by a tenure which is common to the inhabitants of those villages. We have seen books written decrying the condition of the peasant population of France, but I am happy to say that the, Minister of Agriculture has supplied us with the means of refuting those accounts. One of the most interesting of those valuable Reports of our Consuls abroad, which are circulated by the Foreign Office, gives an account of the condition of the rural population in the South East of France. I must say it fills one with envy to read the account of the independence, the prosperity, and the ease of those people. I want to see the agricultural population of this country placed on a totally different footing from that upon which they now stand. I wish them, in their own districts and in their own parishes, to have land which they can call their own, and upon which they have rights from which they cannot be removed, and for which they are indebted to no one. Now, let that be clearly understood. That is our policy with reference to allotments. All this tinkering of hiring an acre here or an acre there is totally and absolutely insufficient for that purpose. The confession of failure of the Act of 1887 is complete. There has been nothing done under it at all. You say a certain number of people have 1742 been stimulated to do what they ought to have done before. Why did they want stimulating at all? I wonder why this Bill has been represented almost as a rod in pickle for country gentlemen who have not done their duty. I was very much astonished that hon. Gentlemen opposite should describe it in that language, or, at all events, in that spirit. As I said before, we wish to place the agricultural labourer upon an independent footing as regards his rights in the soil. That is a distinct policy about which there can be no mistake. What have you done towards that? Nothing at all. You say that your Act of 1887 has stimulated country gentlemen to give allotments where they did not give them before. After all, that is merely a sort of instrument in the hands of the Primrose League. We do not desire to stimulate machinery of that character. That is not what we understand by allotments which are worth giving to the agricultural labourer of this country. Now, your Act of 1887 is admitted to be a complete failure altogether.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I will ask the right hon. Gentleman for some example of what this Bill has done. The right hon. Gentleman carefully avoided giving any figures of what this Bill has done, because I venture to say that under his Bill he will not show a dozen cases. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) believes the Bill to be perfect.
§ * THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. LONG,) Wilts, Devizes
I never said so.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I do not possess a Return which embraces the whole of the allotments, but steps are now being taken to obtain a Return. But we know of 1,800 labourers who have been supplied with allotments directly by the Local Authorities, and 2,000 others who have been supplied with the assistance of the Local Authorities, and many allotments have been contracted between the landowner and the tenant.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
The right hon. Gentleman said we could not show a dozen cases in which allotments had been provided by the Local Authorities.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I did not say so. I said under the provisions of this Bill, which is a totally different thing. My hon. Friend the Member for the Ilkeston Division, last Session, said the instances of compulsory purchase numbered five. Now, I am extremely skeptical about the 1,800. If the right hon. Gentleman assures us that 1,800 have been added—
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I never said anything of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman has a faculty for putting his own gloss on what his opponents say. I stated to the right hon. Gentleman that, from our information, though I do not believe it is at all full or complete, there were 1,800 allotments provided by the action of the Local Authorities under the Bill, and that in addition, with the assistance of the Local Authorities, upwards of 2,000 had been provided, while many had been granted voluntarily.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman has made no allusion whatever to the question I asked. He says his information is not full. Is it not an extraordinary position that the Government should bring in an Allotments Act Amendment Bill without full information as to the operation of the existing Act? I must say it only convinces me that the North Bucks election made them in such a hurry to amend the Act of 1887 that they had not time to make inquiries as to its operation. I must say it is not treating the House with the respect and consideration which ought to be paid to it in introducing a measure of this kind, that the head of the Local Government Board should be obliged to say that he has not got the figures of what has been done under his own Act. After the North Bucks election, gentlemen from that and other counties must have rushed to him and said—"For Heaven's sake let us have an Allotments Bill, or we shall not know what to do." Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman put down this Amending Bill without getting the facts in connection with the existing Act, and I am bound to say I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, that we have got a Bill 1744 which, on the face of it, is absurd, and nothing better than waste paper. What does this Bill propose to do? First of all, the Sanitary Authority are to try their hand in the matter. They are to be allowed a reasonable time—which means about two years. ["Three."] Even three years. At the end of the two years the Sanitary Authority will do nothing. Then you call into operation the County Council. The agricultural labourer may have to make a long and expensive journey to the meeting of the County Council to bring his case before it. Or if he sent a petition, I am afraid it would fall very much as do petitions to this House, and would receive about as much attention. And then the County Council meetings do not take place every week, or even every month; and, therefore, before the labourer could approach the County Council two or three months would elapse. Then the County Council are to make a local inquiry themselves. Of course, a person must be sent to investigate whether there is land which can or cannot be given for the purposes of allotments, and in that way it is obvious that several months would be absorbed; so that from the time appeal is made to the Sanitary Authority, which has already wasted a year and a half, or two years, you cannot possibly suppose that the County Council could come to a conclusion under six months. I think that is a reasonable estimate of the matter. Thus, you have two years or more gone before anything is done; and then what happens? The County Council is to be placed in the position of the Sanitary Authority. I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this, because we ought to have some further explanation in regard to it; for, if I am right, there is this absurdity in the proposal: that when you have spent two years in allowing the Sanitary Authority to dawdle over the matter, and another six months in letting the County Council deal with it, you then begin de novo what was originally done in putting the allotment powers into the state in which they stood under the Sanitary Authority. Such is the Bill as it stands. Well, what has the County Council to do? It has to put into operation the compulsory powers of the Bill. We all know that it takes some time to 1745 put in motion compulsory powers for the acquisition of land, and, with the best will in the world, the County Council would not get the machinery in operation in less time than a year. But you have furnished no information to the House as to how long, even where you have willing authorities, it will take to work your Bill. In point of fact, the whole machinery of the Bill is absolutely illusory and illusive. You offer to the labourer first of all a totally inefficient body, and then you give him an appeal which is very much like offering him an appeal from the Court of Chancery to the House of Lords in the time of Lord Eldon. I must say that the original Bill of the Government and the Amending Bill, taken both together, are worth nothing at all, and will prove to be so. Whether this Bill will operate as a stimulus to those who want a stimulant is a question that remains to be tested. By the first measure the country gentlemen were to have been stimulated to give allotments they never thought of giving before, and the Local Authority is to be stimulated by the second Bill to change their minds and purchase land they would not purchase before. I say that this system of legislative stimulants is an unwholesome system, and I would much rather sec a regular system of wholesome diet for the agricultural labourer on the subject of allotments. The question of allotments is, in my opinion, one of supreme importance; but the system by which you propose to deal with it is one which I regard as totally inadequate. However, I do not intend to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. It is, in reality, not worth opposing. It will be a mere patch on a thoroughly leaky vessel, which could not be made sound or watertight by such an amending process. All I can say is that you will have to mend your hand altogether, and to act on totally different principles if you wish to deal effectually with the matter. You will have to place this question of allotments in the hands of the agricultural labourers and their representatives, and unless you do this you will be doing nothing at all. Your County Council is too large, too distant, too august a body to deal with this question as it ought to be dealt with. No doubt if you set up a proper parochial representative body, with adequate powers, 1746 you might get something worth having, and until you get that you do practically nothing. When you say you do not do this because you have not the moans, I reply that you do not do it because you choose to waste the time of Parliament on objects in regard to which our time is absolutely thrown away. Alongside the measure with which you propose to deal with the wholesome agitation that has been going on in Ireland regarding the land question, you introduce this miserable Allotments Bill, and propose to still further waste the time of the House on a Tithes Bill, to the utter neglect of the measure the agriculturists have been eagerly awaiting, and which they have a right to demand, namely, a measure of Local Government which will give them District Councils. I say that in adopting this course you have made an enormous political mistake. We on this side of the House are not responsible for this; and while we do not oppose the Bill now under discussion, we protest against it as an entirely insufficient measure for dealing with a question which is a much larger and more important one than you seem to understand, and which will hereafter have to be dealt with on totally different principles.
§ *(7.52.) MR. W. H. LONG
The right hon. Gentleman opposite has told the House that if the Government intended to deal with this question they would have to mend their hand and adopt a totally different policy. If that be so I do not know that the Government could follow a better example than that of the right hon. Gentleman himself, because during the time he has been in this House he has invariably been in the habit of changing his hand and adopting different policies; while only to-night we have had a remarkable instance of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman can change his policy. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gloucestershire have long since identified themselves with this question. I do not say that all their views are based on the best foundations, but I do say I hey worked hard in reference to this matter, unlike the right hon. Gentleman who held high office for many years, and who had abundant, opportunities for legislating on this or other Questions, but who, having neg- 1747 lected those opportunities, comes down to this House and says to the Government—You are bringing in an Irish Land Bill, and alongside of that you are taking up the time of the House with a trumpery measure like this.But what did the right hon. Gentleman do? He assisted in bringing in one, two, or three Irish Land Acts, but he totally forgot and ignored the English labourer until lie wanted his vote for Parliamentary purposes. Hon. Members opposite have criticised this measure, and made suggestions which certainly show an honest intention on their part to deal with the question in a practical way, the speeches of the hon. Members for Ilkestone and Gloucestershire being calculated to direct our discussion into a satisfactory line; but the right hon. Gentleman gets up and pedantically practises that art of which he is so complete a master, namely, of pouring oil on the troubled waters? He says he desires to carry on this discussion frankly, and on non-Party lines, and purely in the interests of the agricultural labourer, but how does he himself fulfil those conditions? He makes a speech [occupying half an hour in its delivery, and during two-thirds of the time he is speaking ho is not discussing the principles of the measure, but is accusing the Government of wasting the time of the House in dealing with, other questions besides that of allotments. We are desirous of discussing this measure entirely on its merits, or demerits, in the hope that it may be satisfactorily dealt with by the House. The right hon. Gentleman has asked the Government why they do not bring in a District Councils Bill. No one knows better how to answer that question than the right hon. Gentleman himself. He has abundant opportunities of assisting the Government in passing legislation on that subject, and I have no hesitation in saying that if we had his assistance, and if he were desirous of rendering us that assistance, there is no one who could facilitate more than he the passage of legislation on that particular question.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I may tell the hon. Gentleman that I should be most happy to assist in recommending him to substitute a District Councils Bill for the Tithes Bill.
§ * MR. LONG
The right hon. Gentleman makes one suggestion and then rides off on another point. He knows perfectly well the meaning of what I have said, which was that if he chooses to facilitate the passage of legislation which the Government has already indicated to the House, there would be ample time for legislation on other matters, and if they had the opportunity the Government have already said they were prepared to deal with other matters. I have no doubt that if the Government were to give the right hon. Gentleman the management of their business, he would conduct It greatly to his own satisfaction, if to the satisfaction of no one else. I am happy to say we are not yet driven to the unfortunate condition of either having to ask the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, or to accept that advice unasked. The right hon. Gentleman has taken the Government severely to task, or, at any rate, my right hon. Friend at the head of the Local Government Department for his haste in dealing with this question, but we know that the right hon. Gentleman has only very lately developed any interest in the subject.
§ * MR. W. LONG
We know very well that these Associations are composed, as in hives, of drones and working bees, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can be considered to have been among the latter. Doubtless his own conscience will tell him what his position has been on this question. But if the right hon. Gentleman is so old a hand, and has for so long a time taken an interest on this question, it is marvellous how, with his great abilities, he should have fallen into such great and startling errors. Why, he told us this evening that the average time during which the Local Authority would be occupied in considering this question, would be two years—he was inclined to think three years.
§ * MR. LONG
I said the right hon. Gentleman was inclined to think the matter would be under the notice of the County Council three years, but that he adopted two years as the average time. Take it, however, at 18 months. He wants us to believe that 18 months will be occupied by the L>cal Authority in providing these allotments. He was cheered by the hon. and gallant Member behind him (Captain Verney), whose view is based upon his own electioneering experience in Buckinghamshire. I admit, and I have said it before, in answer to hon. Members in this House, that there was a most unfortunate and deplorable delay in providing allotments in that case. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite knows, and the House knows, perfectly well that it is ridiculous to argue from one or two bad cases. The right hon. Gentleman has taken the Government to task because they do not know what the operation of their own Act has been. But those who are conversant with the facts know that it was impossible to obtain the information it is desirable to put before the House. The Local Government Board has no means of obtaining their information. I believe the right hon. Gentleman, with all his experience, has never been at the Local Government Board; therefore, I may be allowed, with all respect, to tell him how the case stands in regard to that Department. We have no means of knowing what the Local Authorities have done unless those Authorities apply for compulsory powers, or for a loan, or for a form of bye-laws for the management of allotments.
§ * MR. LONG
Does the right hon. Gentleman want us to ask for information which would certainly be untrustworthy? There are Agricultural Returns, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, of the lumber of allotments throughout the country; and when the next Return is issued, on which my right hon. Friend is engaged, it will be found that there has 1750 been a large increase in the number of allotments, and that such increase is due in no small degree to the Act of 1887, over which the right hon. Gentleman made so merry. The right hon. Gentleman charged me with saying during the recess that the Act was perfect. The right hon. Gentleman was for once in error—slightly—or not quite so correct as he generally is. I had not made the statement to which he referred. I interrupted him at the time, and told him I had not made the statement. Then, with his usual fairness, he said, "Oh, then he says the Act was not perfect," and he proceeded to put his own construction on the word imperfect. I have admitted that the Act is incomplete, because it does not create an appeal when the Sanitary Authority fails to provide allotments. It is the object of the Bill to remedy that deficiency. I do not understand that the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division (Sir W. Foster) takes exception to the Bill on the ground that it does not go far enough. The hon. Member for the Cirencester Division (Mr. Winterbotham) tells the House very plainly what they want. He says they want allotments which shall be occupied independently of local landowners, and be easily, cheaply, and rapidly obtained. I entirely agree with the three last propositions, but to the first I as strongly demur. We hope to see allotments provided at a moderate cost, rapidly and easily, and we desire to see the labourers in independent enjoyment of their cottages or allotments. I am sorry that in the course of this debate, when I believe the House is honestly engaged in trying to facilitate the provision of these allotments, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should have thought it necessary to use offensive and unfounded language about the action of landowners with reference to the labourers, and of the connection of the Primrose League with the voluntary provision of allotments. The right hon. Gentleman opposite may make these charges; but I am sure that many of those English country gentlemen whom he has denounced have done far more to carry out the principle of allotments by voluntary action on their own properties than he has done in the House or out of it. Hon. Gentlemen who are conversant with the allotments question will admit the truth of this. It will generally be 1751 found that when the property in a district belonged to one owner allotments are provided to meet the wants of the labourers. It is when the land is divided among several owners, and when, consequently, responsibility is also divided, that failure is found to exist. It is said that the Act of 1887 stimulated landowners to grant allotments. It is not a question of stimulating anybody; but of affording the labourers an opportunity of obtaining allotments where the landowners do not provide them. The hon. Member for North Buckingham says the landowners have been remiss, and he told the hon. Member for Sussex that he did not understand the question. Well, it is easy to make charges of that kind; but the making of such charges will not further the object the hon. Member professes to have at heart. He will not further the interests of those he desires to benefit by making offensive charges against the order to which he himself belongs. As to delay, it is impossible to avoid it altogether, for even in cases where the Local Authorities and the landlords are anxious to provide allotments, it is often necessary either to wait for the expiration of tenancies or to pay tenants for unexhausted improvements. And in the latter case it is frequently found impossible to let the land at such a rate as labourers can afford to pay. It is only where land is unsold and is of bad quality that it is voluntarily surrendered. Where every acre of land is let and well cultivated there must be delay; and, so far as I am able to see, I cannot understand how it is to be completely avoided, unless you do it by paying people to get out—and if you do that, as I say, you run the undoubted risk of having to let allotments at prices far above the reach of the labourers. The criticism of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire did not agree with that of the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division. The latter condemned the Act, whereas the former attributed any failure which has happened, not to the Act, but to those who work it—the Boards of Guardians. Take the case of North Bucks. Hon. Members will not pretend that the Act broke down there. The Local Authorities, it is contended, failed to recognise their responsibilities—
§ * MR. LONG
I beg the hon. and gallant Gentleman's pardon. The failure of the Act was the want of a Court of Appeal from the Guardians. If there had been a Court of Appeal the labourers, if they wanted allotments and could not get them from the Sanitary Authority, would have appealed to the County Council for them; and if that appeal had been provided for in the Act there would not—or need not—have been any delay. If the Bill which we are now considering passes, there will be that appeal. Well, I do not think Her Majesty's Government have any reason to be alarmed at the criticism of hon. Gentlemen opposite who understand this question, or at the severe attack of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. These charges come with a very bad grace from right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, when they won a General Election upon a particular policy, and once more found themselves in Office, fogot all about that policy, and only remembered it again with suspicious suddeness when they thought it a convenient opportunity for attacking Her Majesty's Government.
§ (8.17.) MR. NEWNES (Cambridge, E., Newmarket)
We have been asked by the right hon. Gentleman opposite to allow this Bill to pass through the House quickly, and I, for one, intend to respond to that call. I believe the Bill is unwieldy, where it ought to be simple. I believe it will be costly and slow, where it ought to be cheap and rapid in its action; but I, for one, will not offer any opposition, or support any attempt at opposition, no matter whence it may come, to labourers getting the allotments they so much require. It is of no use our getting' into recriminations upon the past, such as were indulged in by the last speaker. Let us now in this House, as we have the opportunity, all of us assist in every possible way to pass through a measure—no matter how imperfect we believe it to be—that gives some chance of our gaining the end we all have in view. I have risen to-night rather to make a denial of an allegation which has been made with regard to the County Council of Cambridge, part of which county I have the honour to represent. The hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division (Sir W. B. Foster) has stated his belief that that Country 1753 Council is unfavourable to labourers' allotments. I am perfectly sure that be has no desire to misrepresent the members of that Council; but I could not allow an allegation of that kind to be made in this House without giving it a reply in this House. The majority of the members of the Cambridge County Council are opposed to mo in politics; but it is within my knowledge that this Body has displayed the greatest activity in regard to the allotments question, and they do not deserve to be characterised as unfavourable to labourers. When the new appeal which this Bill confers is given to the Cambridge County Council I believe they will do their duty, as far as this difficult and complicated measure will allow them, in giving to agricultural labourers in Cambridgeshire those allotments of which they stand so much in need.
§ (8.53.) MR. LLEWELLYN
I have looked forward with much interest to the introduction of this Bill, and I am glad to think that in two particulars it is an improvement of the existing Act; we have an appeal where Guardians are slow in action, or averse to action, and we have further facilities given for passing through the stages after the Sanitary Authority has first declared in favour of compulsory purchase, and then the matter returns to the County Council. These two particulars are of great importance, because the difficulties of carrying out the Allotments Act have been chiefly met here. I cannot say that, personally, I have heard of any cases—except in this House—of Guardians being averse to the operation of the Act. I have no reason to doubt, however, that there have been such cases, such as have been cited by hon. Members opposite, but I have had no experience of such. In my own county the Guardians willingly assist in every possible way, and so also do the farmers, and I should strongly condemn any Board of Guardians who, having a requisition sent them, and being satisfied of its bona fides, should neglect to carry out the wishes of the labourers. They have no right to do it, and there is no reason why they should do it. Guardians, however, have been condemned for opposition to the measure. But let us see exactly the position of the Guardians when they are called upon to put the Act 1754 in force. As a rule, it is simply a request from the parish, or it does not even come to that; it is made known to the Guardians that the parish wishes, with the approval of someone who has the land, to have allotments provided; or, in other cases, a meeting is called, and, public attention being directed to the subject, those enabled to let land are induced to offer it. But there come occasions when the land has to be rented or bought, and then, looking to the future, there comes a grave responsibility upon the Guardians and the parish officials who accept the terms. Remember it is not like making a provision for the year; it may be saddling the parish with a lease for 30 years—I think an objectionably long term. The Guardians are answerable for aiding in what may be a good, or may be a very bad, bargain for the parish. The whole of the expense falls upon a parish applying for allotments, and that parish may be in a decaying state, perhaps dwindling in population, its prosperity affected, it may be, by the construction of a new line of railway, or other causes. Many matters have to be taken into consideration, and the decision is difficult and important. I quite agree with my hon. Friend that we want District Councils, if for no other purpose, to fill up a blank in the operation of this Act, and to afford a rough and ready means of carrying through the intermediate stages, so fruitful of delay and expense. I was not here when the President of the Local Government Board gave his explanation of the Bill, but I am glad to hear that he is ready, and that he proposes, to make some further alterations in regard to these intermediate stages. I have long ago thought it possible, where a Sanitary Authority is willing to carry out the compulsory clauses, and where the County Council is satisfied that the application is bonâ fide, and so forth, that the Local Government Board might hold an inquiry, just as the Board does under the Sanitary Act when money is proposed to be borrowed from the Public Works Loans Commissioners for improvements, and the expenses in the same way fall on the parish. If time could be saved this would be very desirable. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has spoken of delay of two or three years; he used the word years, though, perhaps, 1755 not intending to convey the meaning which was attributed to him, and I am bound to say the delay is vexatious indeed, and much against the usefulness of the Act. It is well to remember that the delays in seasons are important. If a man has possession of the land in the Autumn, or at Christmas, he can proceed at once to prepare it for planting, but if he only has it in March it will be of no use to him for that year. In November the Council does not sit, and so another year goes by, and if any informality occurs in title, or in any other way, I can quite conceive it possible that owing to a mistake in fulfilling the requirements of the Act there might be a delay of two or three years. I am glad that a Standing Committee is to be employed to act for the County Council, for such a Committee will have local knowledge and be able to act with more efficiency than can the Clerk to the Council. When a County Council has satisfied itself as to the bona fides of a requisition it has further to employ its Clerk, and what in the world does he know of the matter? He has got to check the action of a Committee composed of Guardians and parishioners, and they have far more knowledge than the Clerk can have. If a Standing Committee is employed to do what the Clerk is now authorised to do, that Committee can act between the times of the sittings of the Council, and so at once considerable delay will be obviated. Now, I wish to say a few words in reference to what has been said from the other side of the House in relation to the parish of Wedmore. It is a peculiar case, and illustrates the difficulty we have had to contend with, and the necessity for alteration in the Act. The Sanitary Authority was by no means averse to the carrying out of the Act, and unanimously passed the resolutions necessary. We had to deal with a parish where, after inquiry, we found no land available except one piece of pasture, a valuable piece of land, near the village. That was in the hands of a farmer, who at once said, "I will not stand in the way of it." The tenant for life said he was willing to stand aside as long as he got the same rent. Then we came to the real owners, who were the Trustees of a certain Charity in the City of Wells. They objected. First of all, the Clerk 1756 said, "Who will guarantee me my expenses?" I thought this rather unreasonable, but it ended in someone guaranteeing his expenses. Well, I found out the value of the land to the trustees, and offered them 10s. an acre more than they were receiving. They would not accept this, and at last we got an offer from them. They wanted £4 an acre—which the land was well worth—and in addition they wanted 10s. an acre, and they would not let the land unless on a 50 years' lease. We said we could not accept the land on these terms—in fact, the Act would not allow us. We at once put the notices in the papers and took steps to obtain the authority of the County Council. Well, what I want to point out to the House is the delay and the expense attending all these proceedings. All the expense must come out of the land. This Bill will remedy a great deal of this, and it will enable the Local Authorities to at once see their way to the amount at which they can offer the land to the labourers. I believe that in. the course of three months we shall be able to show that through the action of the Sanitary Authority in the one Union of which I have been speaking, we have got between 60 and 70 allotments, and I hope that under the compulsory provisions of the Act we shall get 20 or 30 more. Therefore, I say, it is a mistake to suppose that the Bill has not been effective. If the object of the Act was to create allotments, it has been successful; if its intention was to stir up strife and to put the landlord's nose to the grindstone and keep it there, I am glad to say it has in that respect been a failure. I believe this Bill will benefit those whom we desire to benefit, and that under the Bill matters will go on more smoothly than they have done up to the present, and I trust that hon. Gentlemen will follow the example which has been set by the hon. Member for Gloucester, who stated that he would do all he could to facilitate the passing of the measure.
§ *(9.6.) MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
I do not entirely agree with hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from this side of the House in regarding the operation of the Act of 1887 as wholly of an unsatisfactory character. I quite admit the incompleteness of that Act. I earnestly desire its amendment, but I 1757 must say, from my own experience, that the Act has in many places conferred great benefits, both directly and indirectly, on the agricultural labourers. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Long) say that the Agricultural Department are preparing a new Return of the number of allotments existing throughout the country. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. Chaplin) to say whether that Return will correspond with the elaborate Return granted in 1887. I trust that it will do so. Whether the allotments which have been granted during the last three years have been actually obtained by Sanitary Authorities under the Act or by more indirect means, I think we must all realise that the total increase in the allotments will form the best and most practical test of the operation of the Act. I must admit that the Act has, to some extent, and in some localities, been a failure. Its operation has been, to some extent, limited by the way in which many hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House and their friends have depreciated it as a means of obtaining allotments. I think that if those Gentlemen have the great influence over the agricultural labourers which they claim, and, in some cases, justly claim, they will be acting in a more friendly way to that class by advising them to take advantage of the machinery of the Act—clumsy and incomplete though that machinery may be—than by declaring on every platform in the country that the Act is a sham, and is perfectly useless. I would suggest to the Government that there are two main causes which have caused the Act to be a failure in many cases, and I would submit to them that neither of those causes are removed by the present Bill. I think we all recognise the first cause in the composition of the Local Authority. It seems to me quite clear that a Local Authority, composed mainly of the occupiers of land, will not be very zealous in putting into operation an Act which may deprive them of land which they occupy and upon which they set much value. We all look forward to the introduction of the District Councils Bill for an improvement in the administration of this measure. The 1758 second cause which has prevented the Allotments Act from working, has, I think, been its too stringent financial provisions, which require that all extra expense occasioned by compulsory proceedings must be recouped out of the rents. I think some discretion should be given to Local Authorities in the matter, and that Sub-section 2 of Section 2 should be repealed, so as to take from any churlish or obstinate landowner the too-ready means of putting a stumbling block in the way of the labourers getting land at a reasonable price. The present Bill will not do anything in either of these directions. It is an imperfect attempt to amend a clumsy measure, which may work well in districts where everyone is ready to see it work well, but which may fail where there are men who are anxious to put stumbling-blocks in its way. It will, however, give an appeal from an unreformed authority to one elected on popular principles. I hope, therefore, the House will accept the Bill as, at all events, an honest and bonâ fide attempt to amend the imperfect machinery creatd by the Act of 1887.
§ (9.13.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
Whilst listening to the speeches of some Gentlemen opposite one wonders that they did not produce an Allotments Bill when their Party was in office. I am glad the Government have seen their way to introduce this Allotments Bill at last. I think it was full time; I have always looked on the Act of 1887 as impracticable and useless, and I have found it to be absolutely unworkable. I think the Government might have saved the time of the House and the country if they had thought proper to give some consideration to the Allotments Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings) and myself two years ago. The object of the Bill was to substitute the word "shall" for "may," and to put a little gentle pressure on the Rural Sanitary Authority. It also embodied the very principle which the right hon. Gentleman has admitted is the central portion of this amending Bill. I certainly think this Bill is somewhat cumbrous and slow, hut on the whole it is no doubt a step in the right direction. I do not think that anything will relieve us from the difficulty under which we labour in 1759 agricultural districts. I doubt whether anything will help us but the introduction of a District Councils Bill, and I hope that before long the President of the Local Government Board will give us such a Bill as we require. But in any case I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, and do what I can to promote the passage of the measure through Committee, not forgetting that I shall vote for my own Bill if I have the opportunity.
§ *(9.16.) MR. CHANNING
The hon. Gentleman (Major Rasch) has referred to his own efforts to amend the Allotments Act—efforts which I have recognised in the past with great satisfaction, because the Amendments which the hon. Gentleman put into his Bill were practically Amendments on which the Liberal Members divided the House again and again. The other day I compared tire Division List of that period with the names of the hon. Members who are at the back of the Bill to which the hon. Member for Essex has just referred. There were 15 Divisions on the more important principles which we tried to introduce into the Allotments Act of 1887, many of these being the very proposals which have since been received with favour by the hon. Member. In these 15 Divisions the six or seven Members whose names I find on the back of the hon. Member (Major Rasch's) Bill recorded no less than 52 votes against the propositions laid before the House, and two of them were absent all the time. I wish to be quite fair, and therefore I must say that the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Collings) did not record more than one or two of the 52 votes. I should now like to turn to the very spirited and clever speech of the hon. Member the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board. Such a case as his needed a spirited speech. In the first place the hon. Gentleman challenged the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) that the Government are wasting the time of the House by this Bill. I should like to know if the speeches of the two hon. Members on that side of the House who have recently spoken, the very practical speech of the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Llewellyn) and the sympathetic 1760 speech of the hon. Member for Essex (Major Rasch), and also the speech of the hon. Member for Somersetshire who sits near me (Mr. Hobhouse), are not ample proofs of the assertion that the Government are wasting the time of the House. What is wanted by the country, and by the labourers and village artisans who want to obtain allotments, is a willing authority, an authority which will sympathise with their needs, and which will facilitate the carrying out of the objects they have in view. What is the origin of this Bill? It is somewhat amusing, but it can be found in a passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Chaplin). Speaking on the 11th of August upon the Second Reading of the Allotments Bill, he used, perhaps, the strongest language made in the debate up to that time against the authority to which the Government had most unwisely entrusted these powers. He said—As regards the Rural Sanitary Authority, my objections to the Bill in its present form are more serious …. I confess to some apprehension that the Rural Sanitary Authority as the motive power, and the body having the initiative in this matter will prove to some extent a snare and a delusion.I say, frankly and cordially, I have no doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman had then been a Member of the Government we should have had something as good as this Bill in 1887, instead of having this Bill in 1890. The right, hon. Gentleman went on to recommend exactly what this Bill adopts, for he said—I should like to see the initiative to a much greater extent placed in the hands of the people who want these Allotments themselves.I think those are very sensible words, and I wish the Government had seen their way to act upon them. But when I placed on the Paper in August, 1887, an Amendment providing that the initiative and the compulsory power, as it were, should be placed in the hands of those who wanted the allotments, and divided the House upon it, the right hon. Gentleman, if I remember right, walked into the Lobby against me. Further on in his speech the light hon. Gentleman went on to recommend exactly what the Government are now adopting, that is an appeal to the 1761 County Councils. I ask any one of common sense whether the proposals of the Government are not at the present stage of the proceeding's, however sensible they may have been when suggested three years ago, "a snare and a delusion," to use the right hon. Gentleman's own words. What we want, as has been said again and again, is a willing authority, an authority which has also the means at its disposal to carry out what it has to do. It happens that the division which I have the honour to represent is perhaps a division more keenly interested in this question, and also more fully supplied with allotments, than any other. Notwithstanding the supply of allotments, there is still a great eagerness to obtain still more land. Naturally, therefore, it is a question in which I have taken some practical interest. Some little time ago, in dealing with the defects of the Allotments Act, I pointed out to a meeting of my constituents that, under the Act which was to have been compulsory, not one single inch of English soil had been procured for labourers. I also pointed out that in all only five loans had been applied for, and that the acreage purchased with these loans was only 85. A constituent of mine, who is not of my way of thinking, wrote to the Secretary to the Local Government Board, and the hon. Gentleman's secretary replied—Mr. Channing's allegation that not a single inch of land was acquired compulsorily under the Act is strictly correct.With regard to loans, it was admitted in the letter that my contention was right. I ought to say that at the time the letter was written, the 9th of December last, one additional little loan had been applied for. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby was alluding to the very small quantity of laud which was obtained under this Act he was interrupted by the President of Local Government Board who said the Local Government Board had information to the effect that 1,800 men had been supplied with allotments by the Local Authorities. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman did not state how he obtained the information, and I noted also that the hon. Member for Wiltshire was careful to avoid offering any further explanation. But in the letter from the Secretary to the hon. Member for Wilt- 1762 shire (Mr. Walter Long) to my Tory constituent it is said—The Board are not in a position to state what is the total acreage of allotments provided since the passing of the Act, but on this point reference may be made to the first annual report of the Rural Labourers' League. 'In the opinion of the Committee the chief benefit at present arising from the passing of the Act of 1887 is the remarkable stimulus given to the voluntary supply of allotments. The cases actually within the knowledge of the Committee comprise over 2,000 acres, allotted to above 4,500 men, and it is certain that these figures in no way represent the full results of the Act in the voluntary supply of land. But the direct operation of the Act itself has also been very Considerable. Upwards of 1,800 men have been supplied with allotments directly by Local Authorities. With the assistance of the Authorities, to whom applications have been made in accordance with the provisions of the Act, arrangements have also been concluded between the applicants and the local landowners, by which a further number of above 2,100 men have been supplied with land.'The President of the Local Government Board did not state where he obtained his information as to the 1,800 men who have been supplied with allotments under the Act, but I fancy the authority is to be found in the letter in which the correspondent of the Secretary of the Local Government Board is referred to the first annual report of the Rural Labourers' League. I certainly look with considerable suspicion on figures obtained from such a nondescript and mongrel body as this— a body which was started under the auspices of a galaxy of Dukes and Marquesses—not forgetting a foreign Count—and which has been chaperoned by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division. To turn to more serious points, this question is not one for idle recrimination between different Parties in the House. I am sure there are hon. Gentlemen on the Benches opposite who have the matter at heart as earnestly as Liberal Members have. I heartily join in the appeal which has been made by the hon. Member fur Somersetshire to the Minister for Agriculture to give us some reliable statistics on this allotments question; and I urge that the whole House has a right to expect better and fuller Returns than have yet been given, as well in regard to where the allotments are, what are the areas, the terms on which they are granted, and the relation of the allotment holders to the Local Authorities as to the mere 1763 number of allotments held. Another important point on which we want information is as to the number of allotments held by Associations. That is important, because those who take land under an Association are in a far more independent position than those who hold directly under the landlord. They have a much stronger foothold. The hon. Member for Somersetshire made a very sensible remark when he drew attention to the 4th clause and to the Committee to be appointed under it. Now, I have a suggestion to make. It is a practical one, and I earnestly hope the Government will adopt it. I think they would facilitate the object they have in view if they tear up this Bill and give us a simple one, transferring the powers now possessed by the Rural Sanitary Authorities to a Standing Committee of the County Council. As long as the initiating authority remains with the Board of Guardians so long will this Bill, to use the words of the Minister for Agriculture, be a delusion and a snare. At the present time in many parts of the country labourers dare hardly have an opinion of their own, and very few can get their courage up to demand allotments of a Body composed of men who hold their living in their hands, or would venture to make the appeal to the County Councils. The 4th clause affords just the solution of the difficulty that is is required. The Government tell us they have not the time to carry a District Councils Bill. Then, let them make a move in the right direction and temporarily entrust powers under the Allotments Act of 1887 to a Standing Committee of the County Councils, and I venture to say that that will go far to carry out the objects which they profess to have in view. The defects of this Bill are manifold. First, it does nothing to remedy the greatest mistake that was made in the Bill of 1887, namely, to remove the restriction on the quantity of land to be held by one man under the Act. Hon. Members who have studied the valuable evidence given before the Small Holdings Committee by Mr. Fyffe, will agree that we cannot expect a system of small holdings to be carried out successfully until we have created a state of things in which a man may begin by cultivating a quarter of an acre and by saving, and thrift, and industry, 1764 build his way up until he holds five or six acres, and eventually takes even a larger holding. I feel sure we shall never be able to deal satisfactorily with the question until we get rid of that absurd restriction, and thus enable an agricultural labourer to increase his holding. We say that this giving the labourer a foothold in the soil of the country means the building up of his manhood. In the next place, hon. Members on this side of the House are in earnest in wishing that the powers of purchase should be made really compulsory, for they attach great importance to the purchase of allotments by Local Bodies, by the Representatives of the people, by the Representatives of those who want the allotments. What is the great difficulty which stands in the way of the successful operation of this Act? It is the cost of the land and the cost of the procedure under the Act; but I think that this difficulty might be obviated to a great extent if the powers were transferred to a Standing Committee of the County Council, when, obviously, the Provisional Order would only have to be settled between a Committee of the Council and the whole Council itself, and the cost thus lessened. The question of compensation for the compulsory purchase of land should have been dealt with in this Bill if the Government really wish to secure the results they say they aim at. While, however, I do not regard the Bill in a hostile spirit and shall abstain from voting against it, yet I maintain that by it the Government have once more deliberately thrown away a great opportunity of achieving the purposes they profess to have in view, and they will have only themselves to thank if it is said in the country that they regard the rights of the landowners and tenant farmers more than the rights and interests of the agricultural labourer. The hon. Member for Wiltshire stated that in acquiring allotments in crowded neighbourhoods we should have to pay compensation to the farmer for his improvements. I fully agree with that; for I think the farmer ought to receive the fullest compensation for the improvements he leaves on the land, whether the that land passes to another tenant or whether it is devoted to allotment purposes. Experience has shown us that an unwilling Authority can delay practical 1765 operations under the Allotments Act for a period of three years, and it is one of the results of the imperfect Bill of 1887 that the authority in such cases will postpone giving the necessary notices to the farmer, and so further delay the operation of the Act. I am glad the Conservative Party have recognised the failure of the Act of 1887. I know the President of the Local Government Board does not admit that failure, but I venture to think the situation to-night is a confirmation of the statement that it is a failure. But I do wish the Government would adopt the practical suggestion of making a Standing Committee of the County Council the authority under the Bill. They can secure this by dropping all the Bill, with the exception of the 4th clause. But as I suppose we cannot expect them to make that surrender, I am driven to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby that, by their conduct, they are once more wasting the time of the House and of the country.
§ (9.45.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
I would like to bear testimony to the successful working of the Allotments Act in my own County of Hampshire. In one parish the labourers approached the Local Authorities with a view to securing land for allotments. The matter came before the Board of Guardians, who discussed the matter, and at once set about obtaining the necessary land. It was a, parish in which it was not easy to get land for allotments, and it was only by holding over the heads of owners and tenants the compulsory clauses of the Act, and by threatening to put them into force, that it was possible to get the land. Eventually, however, nine acres of very good land was obtained for the purpose, and it was let to the labourers at the very moderate rent of 3d. per rod. I do not think that hon. Members will consider that that was an excessive charge, when it is remembered that this land formed part of a hop garden. In this case, consequently, it will be admitted that? the Act operated successfully. In another parish—that of Alton a similar application was made for allotments by the labourers. In that parish there were no vacant farms and great difficulty was experienced in getting the allotments. Again the Board of Guardians were 1766 petitioned, and they succeeded by threatening to put in force the compulsory clauses of the Act in getting the necessary lands, and again they let it to the labourers at the rate of 3d. per rod, which, as hon. Members know, represents £2 per acre. That, I must contend, is a very moderate rent, because it is well-known that land in that immediate neighbourhood frequently fetches from £3 to £4 per acre. I felt it incumbent upon me to make these few remarks, as several hon. Members opposite have attacked the Allotments Act, and suggested that it has proved a failure. I can only say that in my own county there is a general desire to provide allotments for labourers, and that the County Council for Hampshire has appointed an Allotments Committee with a view to securing the provision of allotments. I only hope that the Bill now before the House will pass with the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. I believe that it will prove a useful measure, and that it will be the means of giving more labourers allotments than possess them at the present time.
*(9.50.) MR. QUITLTER (Suffolk, Sudbury)
I am not surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for East Northamptonshire should be a little hard on that excellent publication, the Rural World, which, I am glad to think, is doing so much good in disseminating the truth among agricultural labourers. Now, I should be sorry to see this matter dealt with in a spirit of Party recrimination, and with a view to securing Party advantage. I have endeavoured, as a Member elected mainly by agricultural labourers, to study the interests of that class as much as lies in my power; and to that end the County Council, of which I have the honour to be a member—the West Suffolk County Council—have appointed an Allotments Committee, at which as Chairman of the Sub-Committee I have taken an active part. That Committee has worked for six months continuously, and it has by its efforts collected a number of statistics which throw little light on this question. These statistics refer to no fewer than 181 parishes, and they afford some little practical experience of the working of the Allotments Act in that part of England. I must take ex- 1767 ception to the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Ilkeston Division to the effect that the result of the working of the Act in the East of England has been wholly unsatisfactory. It is perfectly true that, according to the statistics to which I have referred, there is a considerable demand for allotments still existing; but, on the other hand, we find that the number has increased. In 1887 it was 5,628, and in 1889 it had risen to 6,413. That may not be considered a very great result; but it does not represent the whole increase, because one effect of the Act has been to stimulate the provision of allotments privately, and without bringing into operation the compulsory powers. There is another deduction which might be drawn from the remarks of the hon. Member, which I think requires a little qualification, because those figures, on the face of them, appear to show an unfortunate state of affairs in our quarter of the world. They show that there are 2,215 houses in the Western Division of Suffolk without gardens. That, as far as Returns go, is approximately true; but it must be bore in mind that there are 8,713 cottages in that division which have gardens attached to them, and that of the 2,215 cottages before referred to, the great majority are in streets in small towns where it is manifestly impossible that they should have gardens attached to them. I should like to record my humble opinion that it is cottage gardens that are most required by agricultural labourers in this country. A man wants a garden where he can, at the termination of his day's work, employ himself and be assisted by the members of his family, and he does not want an allotment situated a mile or two miles from his home, because it is only men of unusual strength and perseverance who can, after a hard day's work, tramp that distance along a dusty road on a hot summer's evening or in the face of a bitter wind on a winter's night, in order to carry on the cultivation. In the absence of legislative enactments, it is only by the pressure of public opinion being brought to bear upon the owners of cottage property that we can hope to secure the provision of such gardens. I do not think the blame for the absence of gardens rests 1768 with the large owners of property. It is more often the village tradesman or shopkeeper who is the owner of cottages attached to which are no gardens. And people who live in these cottages may just as well live in St. Giles's or in St. George's-in-the-East, because, as a rule, the dust bins, &c., are built close up to the back door, and there is no yard in which a person can even turn round. I repeat, do not let us approach this question from a Party point of view. It is not a question in which one side of the House is interested more than the other. I do not believe that the landlords have, as a rule, putany obstacle s in the way of the labourers getting allotments, and though I should have been glad if the Government could have seen their way to bringing in a Bill for the establishment of District Councils. I wish to state at ones that I heartily accept this measure as an instalment for the good of the agricultural labourers. I remember nothing more disappointing in my experience in this House than when Mr. Arch, then a Member, talked out an important Allotment Bill, introduced by the present Minister of Agriculture. Let hon. Members, who are deesirous of championing the interests of agricultural labourers, take this Bill as an instalment of good, and in the hope that another year a further step may be made in advance. I admit it cannot be said that we are going forward in this matter by leaps and by bounds; but I repeat I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board for his measure, and I think the admission which we have had from hon. Members on this side, that they do not intend to divide upon it, is proof that they know that they must accept it. We have heard something about an appeal to the country from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, who has treated us to one of those speeches which he is so well able to deliver, and which are nevermore delightful than when he is dealing with a subject of which he evidently knows but little, but upon which he is induced to speak because he sees an opportunity of gaining a Party advantage. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that he must be very quick, indeed, with his appeal, if he wishes to prevent the Bill having its effect, because I hope that under its provisions there 1769 will, before the next election, hardly be a labourer in the Kingdom who, if he wants one, will not have been able to obtain an allotment. I can only repeat that I hope next year the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will give us a further instalment of legislation in this direction. We know Members of this House are all anxious to appear at the right time as the friends of the agricultural labourer, and I think it is a very reasonable rivalry. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire has referred to the proposal to appoint the Standing Committee of the County Councils to deal with these matters. I do not know if the hon. Gentleman is a member of the County Council in the county which he represents; for if he were, I think he would find that the Standing Committee of the County Council has already more business on its hands than it c m well get through. At any rate, I know that that is the case in regard to the Standing Committee of the County Council of my own division, and I believe it to be the case in regard to such Committees in other counties. It has always been the fashion to refer these matters to a Standing Committee, and I would say that I approve of the proposal of the Government to appoint a Special Committee, ad hoc. Moreover, I do not think the efforts made on this question by some of the Local Sanitary Authorities have merited the snub that would be administered to them, if without further trial their powers were summarily transferred to the County Council. And I look forward with hope to the right of appeal conferred by the Bill working with salutary effect, and to a great addition being made to allotments and cottage gardens during the present year.
§ *(10.1.) MR. COBB
The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board has spoken of the undesirability of treating this as a Party question, and, having said that, he proceeded to make one of the most extravagant Party attacks that could have been made on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. I have not had much experience of this House, and can only judge from what I have seen and heard during the time I have been a Member of this Assembly, 1770 since 1885, and when the Secretary of the Local Government Board says the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby only began to take an interest in the allotments question in 1885, when the agricultural labourer first obtained his Parliamentary vote, I would remind the hon. Gentleman that it is better to have taken an interest in the question so late as 1885 than, when a measure is brought forward in 1886, to vote against the interests of the labouring classes as the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board did. But that is not all. It was said that no attempt was made on this side of the House to do anything for the agricultural labourer in the shape of obtaining an Allotments Bill. The fact is that in 1886, when we were on that side of the House, the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. J. Collings), who then sat for Ipswich, had, as the spokesman of the Party he has since left, brought in a Bill containing valuable provisions, which Bill, in the absence of the hon. Member, was introduced by the hon. Member for Ilkeston. What then happened? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby made a strong speech in support of that Bill. He said he thought the subject was so large and important that it was better it should be dealt with by the responsible Government. [Laughter from the Ministerial Benches.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but I will tell them what took place. At that time the Government of the hon. Member for Mid Lothian was in power, and that right hon. Gentleman gave urgent and definite instructions to my Friend the hon. Member for Bordesley, who took up—
§ (10.5.) MR. J. COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
I beg to say that I never made any such statement.
§ MR. COBB
The hon. Member for Bordesley seems to know so well what has happened that I cannot but think he is aware that what I am going to say is true. The hon. Gentleman told me that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian had instructed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the hon. Member for Bordesley to bring in an Allotments Bill for the agricultural labourers, and that the Bill was drawn and they were about to bring it in. That, I think, was about April, 1886, just before the hon. Mem- 1771 ber vacated his seat. It was the fault, partly, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that that Bill was not introduced, because immediately afterwards he turned tail and left the Liberal Party on the question of Home Rule. It was he and his friends that caused the Home Rule Bill to stand in the way of the adoption of the Allotments Bill. The hon. Member for South-East Essex has said ho always held that the Act of 1837 was a wretched measure; but on the 12th August, 1887, the hon. Gentleman said, "I believe the agricultural labourers are perfectly satisfied with the Bill as it now stands." He also said he had brought in a Bill, in 1888, upon which was the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley, to amend the Act of 1887. That was so, but the Bill was almost entirely copied from the Bill which had been introduced earlier in the Session by myself. The Bill of 1837 was introduced by the Conservative Government, solely in consequence of the Spalding election, and the hon. Members for South-East Essex and Bordesley had an opportunity during the whole of the Session of 1888 of introducing their Bill, but they neglected to do so until many months after I had introduced my Bill. It is extraordinary that they did not introduce their Bill until after the Southampton and Ayr Burghs elections, and I cannot but think that the great and important changes announced to-night in the amending Bill now brought in by the President of the Local Government Board have, to some extent, been brought about by the of result of the Stamford election. In common with others on this side of the House I shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but I would join in the request made to the President of the Local Government Board, for an authentic Return of the number of Sanitary Authorities who are the landlords of labourers holding allotments. We do not care to take the figures of the Rural Labourers' League. We know it is a respectable body, but we have not much confidence in it; as we find that all the Vice Presidents, and nearly all the Committee, who are Members of this House, almost always vote against measures for the benefit of the agricultural labourer. This Bill relates almost entirely to the amendment of the 1772 compulsory powers of the Act of 1887. We have had to-night two opinions from the Treasury Bench in reference to the question of compulsory powers. Early in the evening the Secretary for Ireland used all the arguments he could employ against compulsion, while the President of the Local Government Board has shown his inclination for compulsion by trying to amend the compulsory powers of the Act of 1887. I wonder if the latter right hon. Gentleman remembers the warning we gave him as to the working of the compulsory clauses of that Act, when the Bill was before Committee. I well remember how lightly he then treated our objections. He now says that he never sneered at Vestries, but if he will refer to his speech on the former Allotments Bill, he will see that he did sneer at them.
§ * MR. COBB
I do not happen to have them by me at this moment. I should like the House to hear his words after what he has said of the manner in which the Act has worked. On the 12th August, 1887, the right hon. Gentleman saidWhether you look upon this as a voluntary question, or whether you regard it in connection with cases where compulsory powers are necessary, the machinery will be found to be simple, effective, and speedy in its operation.The right hon. Gentleman will not say that to-day. I understand the right hon. Gentleman now sees his error.
§ * MR. COBB
If he does not see his error why in the world is he wasting the time of the House by bringing in this Bill? But ho made another statement, also upon compulsion:—But supposing that compulsion were necessary, am) the complicated machinery resorted to, it has not been found in connection with other matters in which land is compulsorily acquired that any difficulty is experienced.'What becomes of his opinion? If that be correct we do not want this Bill at all. If compulsory powers would be easy in their operation why should the right hon. Gentleman throw on the County Council further duties when, not five minutes ago, he cheered the statement that they had already too much to do? The compulsory clauses, at all events, have been a total and absolute failure. 1773 We have been told to-night, and often before, that there has not been one instance in which the compulsory clauses have been put into operation. At the beginning of last Session the right hon. Gentleman said there had been two applications for Provisional Orders, but the expense of the procedure was so great that the Authorities felt they would be doing wrong to burden the ratepayers, besides which the interest on the purchase money would be so great that the labourers would not take the allotments at the rents which would have been necessary. I should like to give two instances of the working of this Act by Hoards of Guardians or Rural Sanitary Authorities. In January, 1888, four months after the Act of 1887 was passed, the labourers of Farnborough and Mollington, two small villages, applied to the Rural Sanitary Authority of Banbury to provide them with land for allotments. Nearly the whole of the suitable land in those two villages belonged to Archdeacon Holbech, for whom I have the utmost respect, but who seems to have limited views with regard to allotments. Archdeacon Holbech has over and over again expressed the view that two chains, or one-fifth of an acre, is the utmost quantity of land which a labouring man can possibly work. He declined to grant any more land. The Local Authority, who possess a very active chairman, knowing their business, calculated what the cost would be of obtaining compulsory powers and compelling- this Archdeacon to do his duty, and they found that the expenses would be so great that the rent for the land would be higher than the labourers could pay.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
Has the hon. Gentleman got any figures in the case of the Banbury Authority, who found the cost so great?
§ * MR. COBB
I have no figures, and I can only refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Banbury Guardian, slips from which, if I remember rightly, I had the honour of sending the right hon. Gentleman. I admit freely that the right hon. Gentleman has done his best to make Boards of Guardians do their duty, but I am not sure that in this case the Board of Guardians did not do their duty better by abstaining from the exercise of compulsion, because they found that the rent of the allotments would be too heavy for 1774 the labourers. Hon. Members on the other side of the House have said so, too, and it is notorious all over the county. Now, as to the question of delay. I will give the House a case which came before the Rugby Board of Guardians relating to a village called Crick, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Northamptonshire. In November, 1887, two months after the passing of the Act, the Crick labourers applied for land for allotments. The Local Authority at Rugby comprises some very good men of business. They very properly appointed a Committee on the5th December, 1887, to confer with the labourers. That Committee reported that there was a demand for 30 acres, and that there was no chance of any voluntary arrangement between the landowners and the labourers, and they advised that negotiations with the landowners should be commenced. They had to negotiate with a clergyman, the Rev. Henry Lister; and, finally, when the negotiations failed, and he would not grant the land voluntarily, they thought about putting the compulsory powers in force. A clergyman on the Board, the Guardian for Crick, reported that there were 36 men in the village out of employment and wanting allotments. On the 12th March, a month afterwards, an amendment was carried to the proposal to put the compulsory powers in force, that a definite answer should be obtained from the Rev. H. Lister. Mr. Mitchison, when this Amendment was carried said, "We are getting no further," whereupon the Chairman of the Board, who is also a clergyman, said "We do not mean to." I have no doubt that accurately represented the opinion of the majority of the Board. Nothing had been done in August, 1888, when one of the labourers wrote, "The workmen must have land or starve." Then he expressed a sentiment which I am afraid hon. Gentlemen opposite will not appreciate, "I hope the Liberals, when they come into power, will bring in a really good Allotments Bill." I hope they will; and if they do not, I will certainly join the hon. Members opposite in voting against them. On August 27th, 1888, it was resolved at last to put the compulsory powers in force. In October the usual 1775 advertisements were published in the I Rugby papers. The Clerk, a careful man of business, reported—just as the Banbury Clerk did—that a great expenditure would be incurred in putting the compulsory powers in force, and thereupon the Board ordered that no further proceedings should be taken. One of the members of the Board said that before they were a year older they would have simpler powers. He was alluding to the promise of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, who, in order to get rid of the Amendments moved on the Local Government Bill, pledged himself, without qualification, that a District Councils Bill should be brought in the Session of 1889. Another gentleman made the remark, the Rev. Dr. Gray—another parson; there are too many parsons on this Board—" It is possible that the craze may die out." That was the way in which the rev. gentleman looked at those compulsory powers to provide land for starving men. He waited for the time when the "craze" would cease to exist. Well, in the division I represent, there is a very popular nobleman—Lord Willoughby de Broke—:who, in a speech he made in Warwickshire, pointed out what a great blessing the Allotments Act had been to the labourers in the village where he lives. I took the liberty of writing him that there had not been a single case in the village to which he referred in which an inch of land had been obtained under the Allotments Act. Lord Willoughby used exactly the same language about the Act having stimulated the landlords to give allotments. Then I was obliged to point out that Lord Willoughby, I felt sure, being the principal landlord, required no stimulus, and I felt sure he would have given the labourers allotments years and years before, but he had not. As to the great interest of county gentlemen in allotments, I have the misfortune to be the only Member for the County of Warwick on this side of the House, and I look in vain for the three other Members, who sometimes sit on the other side. They are all county gentlemen; I believe they are all landowners. When the Allotments Act was discussed in 1887 one hon. Gentleman was here for one night; the other two were never here during the whole discussion. I ask hon. 1776 Gentlemen opposite whether that sort of abstention from duty is likely to increase the idea which is put forward so strongly to-night, that county gentlemen of England do really wish that the men should have allotments. The hon. Member for Somersetshire alluded to the labourers of that county, who cannot get allotments from the Sanitary Authorities. We pointed all this out and a great deal more when the Bill of 1887 was introduced, and we took a number of Divisions, and what did we get for our pains? The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, who at that time had become a full blown Member of the Tory Party, spoke of us and of myself in particular, as "the newly-found friends of the agricultural labourer." But in 1885, speaking on my behalf at a meeting in Warwickshire, the hon. Member for Bordesley, (Mr. Jesse Collings) said that the labourers might depend upon me to look after their interest because he knew I had been brought up in the wish to do so. Therefore, I think it was rather hard of my hon. Friend, in conjunction with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), to call me a newly-found friend of the agricultural labourer. But a newly found friend is better than a newly-found enemy. In saying that I refer more to the right, hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham than to my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie) has altered the Bill to the extent he has done, but I hope that some member of the Government will tell us the meaning of the 3rd clause. If it means that the County Council are to begin all over again, it means that there will have to be two local inquiries before the Act is put into operation. In 1887 a prominent member of the Government said that the country was too large an area to which to give the acquisition and the management of allotments. I agree with that. The county being too large and the Board of Guardians being an improper Authority, when the Bill is read a second time I shall put down an instruction to amend it, so that the Authority may be altered, and that the management and control of allotments may be placed in the hands of a popularly elected body over a smaller area than that of the Rural Sanitary 1777 Authority—namely, the Parish Council. I believe that what the labourers want in this country is not to have any individual relations between themselves and the landlord. I believe it would be better for them, and better for the landlords and everybody else, if every allotment in the country was owned or leased by an Authority elected by the people, so that the people might themselves, at any rate, have some voice in the choice of their landlords, and that if their landlords misbehaved themselves they might put in others who would behave themselves better. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie) laughs, but as certain as he is sitting there that will be done some day.
§ (10.33.) MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
I am always very glad when a question is discussed which is of interest to the agricultural labourers of England, who are perhaps rather neglected in this respect. I am glad this question has been treated, not by all but by many of the Members who have spoken, in a fair and frank manner, and without resort to electioneering tactics. I fail to understand the charge made by one or two hon. Members opposite, who seem to intimate that either the farmers or landlords of England have objections to the labourers having small plots of land. As far as my own experience goes that is not the Case, and they would only be too glad to see thorough facilities given in that direction. We know perfectly well that a largo plot of land is not workable by a man who has to work for his master all day long, but we should support any legislation that is fair and reasonable, and that would enable the agricultural labourers to spend an hour or two in the evening upon an allotment or cottage garden. The man who works in that way will not, at all events, be wasting his time at the public-house, and many of the cottages have not the amount of garden accommodation they ought to have. It is unfair to say that landlords or farmers, as a class, are opposed to any reasonable legislation on this subject. In my own neighbourhood the labourers have got allotments by voluntary arrangement with the landlord, and, argue as we may, I am sure it is very much better that this should be the case. If we try to legislate for compulsory acquirement of land we shall have to encounter the difficulty and trouble of setting up expensive machinery, which will result in 1778 causing the land to be too highly rented to make it worth while for the labourer to cultivate it. I welcome the Bill we are now discussing as another step in the right direction. I am not satisfied with the existing Act, which leaves a good deal for improvement, although it is certainly not accurate to say that it has been of no use. I think there is room for this additional measure, and I hope that other stops will be taken in the same direction.
§ (10.30.) MR. COLLINGS
I am extremely glad to welcome any step, whether small or great, towards the realisation of the hopes of the labourers with regard to allotments, and I think I may claim the agreement of all the House when I say that the present President and Secretary of the Local Government Board have, by their sympathy with this movement, advanced it to a very large extent during their tenure of office. We have heard some curious speeches on this side of the House. It is said that nothing brings such acute suffering to men as the contemplation of their neglected opportunities, and it is positively touching to see the discomfort and agony manifested by some hon. Members on this side of the House when we contemplate hon. Members on the other side doing work which they have neglected. The bulk of their speeches have been aimed in the first place at explaining away that neglect, and, secondly, at proving that what has been done brothers than themselves is of little worth. This Bill has been described as waste paper, and the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb) has called it a wretched Bill. If that be so, why does not the hon. Member vote against it? I If it be a wretched Bill surely it ought to be opposed, but hon. Members know that such talk as that with regard to this Bill, and similar talk with regard to the Bill of 1887, will not go down with those who are most concerned. The hon. Member for Rugby has made a statement, once in print, and again in this House to-night, about some cock-and-bull, story as to a Bill to be prepared by the late Government. It is not my duty to say anything about what was being done, by the late Government, but the memory of the hon. Member does not serve him when he makes that statement.
§ MR. COLLINGS
I do not know whom the hon. Member submitted it to. I only state, of my own knowledge, the facts which relate to myself, and with regard to that I adhere to my position. The Conservative Government was turned out at the end of January, on the Allotments Question, and within less than a month the new Government came in and made their statement, in which there was not a word of reference to allotments. I was a very humble member of the Government.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
Everyone knows that a subordinate Member, such as a Secretary of a Department, is not a Cabinet Minister, and therefore does not know the policy of the Cabinet as to the date of the introduction of the Allotments Bill. There was another measure sprung on the House and the country, which put all Allotments Bills and everything of that kind aside permanently, and it is simply playing with words to talk about the late Government having an Allotments Bill ready.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
That is a question which it is proper neither to ask or to answer. Hon. Members have asked why the Member for West Birmingham is not present. The right hon. Gentleman is engaged with his constituents, and the Government do not require assistance to pass the Bill, because they will have the assistance of hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House. The hon. Member for the Rugby Division talked of the numerous and valuable Amendments to the Bill of 1887. Numerous they were, no doubt, but their value was not so obvious. The hon. Member himself moved an Amendment that the Bill should cease to be in operation in 1889, and another hon. Member 1780 moved that burial-grounds should not be taken for allotments. Those are samples of the large number of Amendments which occupied the time of the House. The fact is that hon. Members were so enamoured of the Bill that they almost killed it in their embraces. I remember, on August 18, there were 17 pages of Amendments down on the Paper; and on the next night, though many Amendments had been disposed of, there were again 17 pages. On the last day of Committee there were 15 pages of Amendments; and it was only due to the express determination of the Government and the threat of the Closure that the Bill was passed at all. A large proportion of the speeches that have been made have had reference to the Act of 1887. No one pretended that it was a perfect measure. There are very few Acts of Parliament that are perfect; and if cases of the failure of this Act are to be brought forward I could mention scores of cases on the other side where there have been successes. It is impossible to fully estimate the actual working of the Act of 1887; but there is positive proof that its effect has been enormous. Putting aside all the cases where it may be supposed that the land would have been supplied without the Act, it is found that above 2,000 acres have been given by the indirect effect of the Act, and between 4,000 and 5,000 men supplied with allotments. As to those directly supplied by the Local Authorities, though the estimate of 1,800 put forward by hon. Members is true for last September, it is much under the mark now; and between 2,000 and 3,000 men have been assisted to allotments by the Local Authorities. Therefore, though the Act has only been in existence for 18 months, more than 8,000 men have benefited by it, and it is therefore unfair to call the Act a sham and a delusion. There is weekly evidence of the increase of the operation of the Act; but I sympathise with hon. Members who are bound to minimise the legislation which their opponents have passed, and which they have neglected to pass. I know the difficulties of their position, and would make every allowance for them; but I beg of them not to make the labourer suffer for Party exigencies. That is the only thing I ask them; and I am glad, therefore, to hear that the extreme affection which was shown for the Allot- 1781 ments Act of 1887—an affection which would have caused the measure its life hut for our interposition—is not to he exercised in regard to the present Bill. I have said, in this House and out of it, that a compulsory clause once passed will be very rarely used, and I said this when many hon. Members who criticise me now had yet to learn what an allotment was. They speak of the Act of 1887 as though it were only composed of compulsory clauses; but surely the voluntary clauses are as important a part of the Bill. If the voluntary clauses work well and smoothly they will answer every purpose save that of Party interest. The one great defect of the Act of 1887 was the absence of a Court of Appeal; but by the Bill before the House, and especially by the Amendments promised by the President of the Local Government Board, this defect will be remedied by giving a, cheap and, I venture to say, an effective Court of Appeal. That the County Council will be an effective and sympathetic Court of Appeal we have abundant evidence already. Take the action of the Member for North-East Norfolk (Sir E. Birkbeck), for instance. See what he has done on the County Council of his district, taking the question from the Sanitary Authority to the County Council. You can multiply that case throughout the country, and will see what a sympathetic tribunal you will have for the appeal. What we contend is that the Act of 1887, though not free from defects, has been more attended by successful results than almost any Act of Parliament of the kind during the time it has been in existence. I have dates and facts for this assertion, and I can prove them if challenged. I will not allude to the discourteous or rash remarks of the hon. Member for Wellingborough. I do not think they matter much; therefore, I will pass them over, but they show to what straits hon. Gentlemen are put. As to the remarks which have boon made about the action of the Government with regard to allotments, it must be admitted that while the present Government did not promise they performed, and while the late Government promised they did not perform. The agricultural labourers understand matters, and they will not be so foolish as to throw away or to lose a bird in the hand for one in the bush, if I may 1782 give advice to hon. Members—they give me plentjr—it is to spend some of the energy which they now expend in going up and down the country declaring the Allotments Act a sham, and a delusion in the effort to turn the Act to account and to get the land for the men. That is what the rural Labourers' League has been doing, and it has got for the men thousands of acres, but not by bullying or raising Party feeling. Not very long ago I heard a stump orator holding forth to an audience of Devonshire labourers, and proving to his own satisfaction that they would never obtain allotments. The gentleman did not understand why his audience were on the broad grin all the time. The fact is that a week or a fortnight before, within a gunshot of where the gentleman was speaking, each men had obtained as much land as he required. This is what is going on in. the country—men are making this a mere political question, instead of one for the labourers.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
It was in Devonshire, in the neighbouring parish to my own. As one who has taken some part in this question, as one who has advocated it when there were found only one or two on either side of the House to take any notice of it, I from my heart thank the Government, and particularly the President of the Local Government Board and his coadjutor, for the full sympathy they have shown for the labourers. The hon. Member for the Rugby Division (Mr. Cobb) has talked of turning Tory I sympathise with him—if the Liberal Party does not deal with allotments. But what does he say of me? That I am turning Tory by supporting the Government because the Liberals will not deal with allotments. The hon. Gentleman now says that he will turn against the Liberals if they do not deal with allotments when they should happen to come into power. He knows perfectly well that the Liberal Government, if it ever sees existence, is pledged up to the eyes, as solemnly as men can be pledged, to bring forward a question which will occupy not one Session or two Sessions, perhaps, not one General Election but two General Elections. He knows that the result must be that the question of allotments must be postponed indefinitely, and will never be dealt with until the 1783 Irish Question is settled. I intend, in this matter, to assist the present Government regardless of Party, because they are not content with making promises, but give practical proof of then sincerity. I shall not support a Party who, whilst they ask for votes in order to carry legislation on agricultural and educational questions, know well that the power which those votes will give them will be used to push through this House their scheme of legislation for Ireland.
§ *(11.7.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Ceilings) has curious notions of proportion and official propriety. It is true that in 1886 the hon. Member moved the Amendment to the Address in favour of allotments, and that upon that Amendment Parties changed sides. The hon. Member would therefore have the House believe that he had a right to dictate to the Government that came into power not only what should be their policy but even the order of their proceedings. Such is the hon. Member's notion of proportion. Has he ever heard of the fly on the wheel? Why, the change of Parties did not take place upon the question of allotments in reality. Everybody knows that on the occasion of Amendments to the Address Parties divide with reference to their natural divisions and their natural antagonisms. In fact, they take advantage of opportunities of that kind. [Laughter dud cries of "Oh" from the Ministerial Benches.] Why this assumption of innocence? The whole history of debates cm the Address points in the direction which I have indicated; and if the Opposition can put the Party in power in a minority by an Amendment on the Address they do so. The hon. Member would be entitled to say that a Party coming into power on an Amendment on the question of allotments were morally and honourably bound to take that question up; but when it comes to that question we see his peculiar notion of official propriety. He thinks it perfectly justifiable to turn round against the Party of which, as he tells us, He was a humble Member, and which he joined after the memorable Division, and to accuse them of not carrying out the policy which the Amendment foreshadowed. I ask him, did ho make terms when he took office that the ques- 1784 tion should be dealt with on a particular day?
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
As I am directly appealed to, let me say I did not think it necessary to make terms with reference to that which before the world and this House was an honourable agreement and understanding.
§ * MR. STANSFELD
I take that answer. He joined the Government that came into power, and he has been asked, "Did you receive in your Department instructions to frame a measure dealing with this very question?" That question the hon. Member does not feel at liberty to answer. [Mr. JESSE COLLINGS: I could answer it.] The hon. Member can turn against the Government which he joined; but it is not in accordance with his notions of official propriety to say what instructions he received at the time. Now, the Secretary to the Local Government Board made a statement of a rather extraordinary nature when he said he was not prepared to offer to the House any figures concerning the number of allotments which have been provided in consequence of the Act of 1887, because he has no power to call for the Returns.
§ * MR. STANSFELD
I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he excluded cases where there had been voluntary arrangements in consequence of the action taken by the Sanitary Authorities.
§ * MR. LONG
The hon. Gentleman knows better than I do that the Sanitary Authorities only appealed to the Local Government Board, and their action only becomes known to the Local Government Board when a loan was contracted. Otherwise the Board have no knowledge, and can obtain no knowledge, of their proceedings in any way.
§ * MR. STANSFELD
That brings me to my point. I say that nothing could have been more easy than for the Local Government Board to address a Circular to the Sanitary Authorities requesting them to furnish particulars of any allotments which have come to their knowledge, or to which they had been a party. Such a request would, as a matter 1785 of course, have been complied with. But the hon. Gentleman has referred to a Return about to be issued by the Minister for Agriculture. It is not of importance to us from what Department it issues; but we require a clear understanding what the Return shall contain. What we want, and what we shall expect before the Bill proceeds in Committee, is this: We desire to know what has been the operation of the Act. That is the question of the moment. We do not merely want to know the number of allotments granted. Why, the hon. Member for East Somerset (Mr. Hobhouse), speaking some time ago, said the total number of allotments since the Act was passed, being compared with the number previously provided, would in the difference of totals give the measure of the operation of the Act; but there is no justification for a proposition of that kind, for who can say what other causes may have been in operation in the same direction? What we expect is not a mere catalogue of allotments, but information throwing such light upon the question that we can understand in what way the Act has operated, how far it has operated, and how far it has not. Nobody will deny that the Act has worked as a stimulant. The right hon. Gentleman himself has practically said the effect of the Act has been as a, stimulant, and that it has produced a large crop of allotments by indirect action.
§ * MR. STANSFELD
That was the point of his argument. He not only said that, but he also very frankly acknowledged that he looked forward to District Councils in the future to be constituted and elected on a popular basis of democratic household suffrage, and the protection of ballot as the proper Body to whom this function of dealing with allotments should be committed. Well, but that is the condemnation of the present system. Now he urges that he could not help himself; but he admits that the Boards of Guardians with their paper voting, property qualification, and without the protection of the ballot, are not the Body from whom proper consideration of this question of allotments can be expected. We believe that such a question can only be fairly dealt with by a popularly-elected and Representative Body within a comparatively small area within each county. The 1786 right hon. Gentleman has given indication of an Amendment to the second section of the Bill. As it at present runs, the County Council, on primâ facie evidence of the facts stated in the petition directed to show that a Sanitary Authority has failed in its duty, may cause a local inquiry to be made; and, if satisfied, may inform the Sanitary Authority of their decision, and require the Sanitary Authority, within a time, not exceeding six months, to take; proceedings under the Act; and if at the expiration of that time the Sanitary Authority does not act power lapses to the County Council. Now the right hon. Gentleman has, on the whole, been congratulated on his proposed Amendment; but I cannot say that I am prepared at this moment—I do not know what more can be said in its favour—to join in those congratulations, and I will tell him why. My expectation is this: that if the County Council under this Act find that to lend a willing ear to the petition of the labourers saying that the Sanitary Authorities have refused, or neglected, to deal with their demands, if the County Council comes to know, as they will know by this Amendment, that to listen to this request will ipso facto deprive the Sanitary Authority of their power, my expectation is that they will decline to exercise that power. As the Bill stands, it comes to this: that if the County Council come to a decision unfavourable to the action of the Sanitary Authority the latter will be in a position of locus pœnitentiœ. But with the proposed Amendment the transfer of powers would take place at once, and my belief is that the Bill will in this way be less operative than at present. Now, the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir W. Barttelot) said, if I understood him rightly, that we prevented the constitution of District Councils. He suggested that the right hon. Gentleman, when he introduced the Local Government Bill, would have passed the District Council clauses if it had not been for the obstruction or opposition, whichever he called it, of Members on this side. I wish the hon. Gentleman were here, for I should be sorry to misrepresent him. Assuming this is what he meant, I say it is entirely mistaken. It is matter of knowledge that we supported the Bill; we did not merely give it negative fair-play; we gave it that positive help without which it would not 1787 have passed; we gave it help when hon. Gentlemen opposite did not like it. The hon. Baronet himself did not like it, and many others were dissatisfied with and afraid of it. It was our active help that enabled the right hon. Gentleman to pass his Bill. To our assistance he appealed at the commencement of the proceedings, and that assistance he acknowledged at the end. It is not fair, it is not just, for Members of the Conservative Party to take upon themselves to suggest that so far from helping we obstructed the measure, and that it was carried in spite of our opposition. My right hon. Friend (Sir W. Harcourt) has been a good deal criticised by speakers on the other side of the House, but there is one thing which he has done to-night to which I would call attention and place prominently before the House. He has stated so clearly that it will be impossible hence forward to disguise the issue—the difference between us as a Party and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is not a question of compulsion or no compulsion. I suppose we are all of opinion that we would do without compulsion if we could. That is not the essence of the difference between us. You say better leave this matter to voluntary action subject to the additional stimulus of the Act, but not so much to the operation of the Act itself. But that is not our position. We hold most distinctly that it is of advantage—of essential advantage—and necessary that there shall be popularly-elected representative Bodies in small areas, districts or parishes, which shall have the right to acquire land, to buy and hire land in order to sell the land or let the land to inhabitants in those areas. We do not want action to be confined to stimulating landlords to provide allotments. We could illustrate our position by reference to the well-known instances of the Swiss Communes, but I do not know that we need go so far because they have a great deal of common property that we have not in our villages; but I say we hold the strong and positive opinion that it is desirable in the future, subject to such regulations and restrictions as experience may suggest, to confer on small Local Bodies down to fair sized parishes the right and power to invest money in land for the community. There is this broad distinction between us. We have more extensive and advanced notions of local government in 1788 small areas than have the Conservative Party. We may be right, or you may be right; but there is this broad difference, and my right hon. Friend has done good service in setting this out with the weight of his authority and language, to prevent this ever been confused or forgotten in time to come. We are indebted to him for the course he took to-night. We applaud, approve, and endorse his statement, and shall be prepared in the future to abide by the policy he has declared.
§ (11.35.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down commenced his observations with the enunciation of a new and somewhat startling doctrine. We were told that when a Government is turned out of power by a Vote of Censure on a definite and substantive question mentioned in the Address in Answer to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, the votes given on such an occasion, by which the Government are turned out, are not to be held to mean what naturally they would mean; and although, on that particular occasion, the Government were distinctly censured by a virtuous Opposition for neglect of duty, yet that implied no obligation on the Party coming into power.
§ * MR. STANSFELD
The right hon. Gentleman should not misunderstand me. I did not say that. The distinction I drew was that the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division was wrong in supposing that the incident of a majority turning out a Government entailed upon the Government coming in the duty of making legislation on that subject a primary duty before any other subject. I said it was an important duty to take up that subject, but not necessarily the first and primary duty.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
With the exception of the addition that it does not entail a "primary" duty, the explanation, it seems to me, amounts to making a distinction without a difference between the view now expressed and that which I attributed to the right hon. Gentleman. In the whole of my Parliamentary experience I never recollect a case where a more distinct duty was imposed on a Government than that imposed on the Government succeeding in 1885 to deal with the allotments question, a duty 1789 which, so far as my memory serves me, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have neglected from that day to this. I confess I had hoped that this debate might have been conducted with an entire absence of Party feeling; but the opportunity apparently offered an opportunity for indulging in Party opinions, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby found irresistible, and, accordingly, some time ago we were informed that the Bill is worthless, utterly insignificant, contemptible, wretched, and altogether useless; and that being the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, I venture to say it is somewhat curious to observe that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are all going to vote for the Second Reading, and thereby to aid and abet the Government in a still further waste of time which the right hon. Gentleman condemns so severely and, I think, so groundlessly at the same time. The hon. Member for the Rugby Division (Mr. Cobb), greatly exulting in superior virtue over the more peccant Members who represent the County of Warwick, succeeded in discovering a most remarkable mare's nest. He has discovered the real and true origin of the Bill before us to-night and also of the Bill introduced in 1887. That Bill, he said, was occasioned by the Spalding election, and this Bill is due to nothing but the Stamford election. Unfortunately for the accuracy of the hon. Member, I recollect something more about the Bill than he appears to do. In the first place, the Bill of 1887 was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne addressed to Parliament in the month of February, 1887, and the Spalding election took place in the month of June of that year. I cannot, then, see upon these dates how the result of the Spalding election can be said to have influenced the intention of the Government in regard to allotments, for I suppose even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby will hardly accuse a Conservative Government of deliberately inserting in the Speech from the Throne a subject they have no intention whatever of dealing with under whatever circumstances may arise. Well, how the hon. Member can advance such an opinion as he has expressed, I confess I am at a loss to understand. And how does the case stand in regard to the present Bill, which the hon. Member traces to the result of the Stamford election? 1790 Perhaps I can hardly expect him to take my word for it; but I can assure him that I read the Bill in print, exactly in its present form, several months before the Stamford election. The determination to introduce the Bill was arrived at long before there was an election at Stamford, and, unless my memory altogether deceives me, it was introduced and circulated many months before the election occurred.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
That occurred before the Session commenced. What I am saying is to meet the allegation of the hon. Member for Rugby, that the introduction of the Bill was due to the Stamford election. Then the hon. Member has asked me to explain the 3rd section of the 3rd clause in this Bill, and I understand that he is in some doubt whether the County Council are to make one inquiry or two inquiries before proceeding to deal with the question. The effect of the clause, amended as my right hon. Friend proposes, will be perfectly simple. The duty of the County Council, under the circumstances, will be to make one inquiry; and if satisfied by that that the land is required for allotments, then they will proceed to action under the powers which will be transferred from the Sanitary Authorities and placed in their hands. Then I have been asked many questions as to the new Return; and if I had anticipated that this debate would have occurred so early, I would have prepared myself with a copy of the Return and would have given full information. A Return was prepared a considerable time ago by my instructions, though I am unable to state at the moment all it contains, but, generally speaking, it will give full and the latest information in regard to allotments. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby positively gloated over the confession of failure he declared was indicated by the introduction of this Bill, which, he repeated, was only introduced after bye-elections had occurred. Now, let me point out that in making this statement he was not only grossly inaccurate, but he was doing some of us very considerable injustice. True, I was not a Member of the Government at the time; but, unless I am altogether at sea, I was the first Member in the Session, after the Allotments Bill was carried into law, to point out that the Bill had in some 1791 respects failed to answer expectations formed of it, and that the failure was owing to the fact that Local Authorities had been backward in their duty and in taking those steps to make it thoroughly effective. Be that as it may, there is no doubt on this point, and we have no desire to minimise or conceal it, that the Bill has not in all cases had the effect we anticipated from it. That being so, is it possible for the Government to give a better earnest of their intention on the subject than to take the first opportunity to do what we now propose to do; that is, by fresh legislation to place matters in the hands of a perfectly representative authority? No new measure is at first completely successful, especially when it deals with matters which have not been the subject of legislation before, as is the case with this question of allotments. I think it is most unreasonable to expect that the first attempt at legislation should prove to be complete and perfect in all its arrangements so as not to require any amendment in the future. But whatever measure we had introduced on the subject, whatever measure had become law under our auspices, one thing is perfectly certain, that it never would have given satisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman. We may give them credit for agreeing- in our object to provide greater facilities throughout England for labourers acquiring land for these purposes; but I suspect we differ most entirely so far as I can judge from speeches, and are likely to continue to differ, as to the method by which that object is to be accomplished. We, on the one hand, believe that the best mode of providing land for the purpose is by voluntary moans and mutual agreement between the landlords on the one side and the labourers directly on the other, which, in my opinion, is the best means of all; and failing that, by mutual agreement between the landlords and the Local Authorities. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, so far as I can gather from their speeches, take an entirely different view of the situation. Voluntary means? Nothing of the kind. Mutual agreement? The last thing they will hear of. Voluntary means and mutual agreement lead to nothing, say hon. Gentlemen opposite, but the basest and grossest intimidation on the part of landlords. What labourers want, they tell us, is this:— 1792 "We do not want the land held under landlords; what we do want is land held under the ratepayers as our landlord; we desire complete independence. But whatever method is adopted, the land shall be taken by compulsion. With nothing less than that will we be satisfied."
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Well, I am glad to hear these denials; but if hon. Gentlemen had listened as closely and attentively to the speeches as I have, they would have heard this note throughout them all. [Cries of "No."] Well, I am delighted that two right hon. Gentlemen opposite are no longer believers in compulsion.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
May I be allowed to point out the distinction? We do not in the least insist on compulsion: what we want is that the land, whether by agreement or otherwise, should become the property of the popular authorities from whom the tenants will hold it. We do not insist on, or desire, compulsion.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's views are somewhat modified. I gather from the interruption, of which I make no complaint, that I was mistaken, and that the right hon. Gentleman is not so much in favour of compulsion as some of his friends are. Let me refer to two or three particular objections to compulsion. In the first place, I am quite certain that it must lead to greater cost in the acquisition of the land. It is not necessary to argue that. In the second place, it involves in most cases necessary dispossession of others from the land they occupy, and if the people who now hold the land happen to be farmers who are farming the land and spending much money on the land, immediately you are confronted with the question of tenant right due to them on leaving, which must be an additional element of cost to the future holders. Another thing that must not be forgotten is this—allotments, to be of practical use, must be as near as possible to the villages where the labourers live. The best land is generally near the villages, and if a farmer was to lose that he might say, "If you take that, I will give up the whole farm."' That is a practical difficulty that must commend itself to hon. Members oppo- 1793 site, and is not to be overlooked. But you say the labourers want to be absolutely independent, and to hold the land under a Public Authority, which is to be absolutely representative of the community, or, in other words, that the labourers would prefer to deal, with Parish Boards rather than with the landlords with, whom they have been connected for many years. That may be the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I can only say that I have had experience and knowledge of labourers in my own county, and on estates in many other counties, and this experience leads me to differ absolutely and entirely from that view. I am as certain as I am of anything in my life that upon this point hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are absolutely wrong, and I will give them the reason at once. Suppose it may happen again, as unfortunately it has happened quite recently, that agricultural interests should be called upon to pass through a severe and continued period of depression, what is going to happen in that case? That will happen, which has frequently happened before, that in case after case, owing to no fault of their own, hundreds of these poor fellows will, when the time comes round, be unable to pay their rent, and will have to claim the sympathy and forbearance of their landlord, and ask for some remission of their rent. Under such circumstances, to whom would the labourers prefer to go? To the landlords, who through generations have been the best friends to the labourers, whom they can trust, and whose kindness they have often had occasion to recognise and rely upon. They cannot hope to have consideration from the Parish Hoard, the members of which, however kindly disposed they may be, however inclined to be generous, cannot indulge their feelings, because they are dealing with other people's property, and not their own. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite knew a little more about labourers he would know that there is nothing they dread so much as a Parish Board, or having business with a Parish Board. I do not doubt that some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would not be altogether sorry, for political purposes, if they were successful in stirring up feelings of hostility between landlords and labourers in this country, but I do not 1794 believe for a single moment that, in spite of all their efforts, they will succeed. Nothing will convince me that the labourers will not continue in the future, as they have in the past, to regard landlords, among whom they have lived for years, as better friends to them than any Parish Board. Time compels me to bring my observations to a close. It is not necessary for me to say much more. We yield to no section of hon. Members in the Blouse in a desire to promote by every available means the object which I am glad to think we all have in common. It seems to me that hon. Members opposite have expressed considerable divergence in their views. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, in one part of his speech, denounced the transfer of power to County Councils on thee ground of the great difficulty it would give the labourers, the distances they might have to travel, and other inconvenience. But shortly afterwards up gets the hon. Member for Northamptonshire and says the only thing to make the Act really workable is to transfer power at one swoop to County Councils.
§ * MR. CHANNING
I did not suggest that as the best Authority. I said it would save time and trouble as a temporary measure until we have Parish Councils.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Great differences of opinion have been displayed between individual Members on the other side. Nevertheless, there is more difference between us and them, and one of the greatest differences—which will be recognised inside and outside of the House— is, that while they talk a great deal on this subject both in the House of Commons and in the country, they do not act, but we do. We have endeavoured—successfully or not—to deal with the question on more than one occasion, and hon. Members may be assured of this, that we shall not rest on this side until we have been successful in what, we hope will be a safe and simple means of obtaining the object we have in view, and in regard to which, I think, some of us have rather more knowledge than some of the right hon. Gentlemen, our critics.
§ * THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
I must appeal to hon. Members to allow the debate now to close. I cannot consent to an adjournment, and claim to move that the Question be now put.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.