§ Order for Committee read.
§ *(3.35.) MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
In moving the Instruction of which I have given notice, I shall endeavour as far as possible to avoid all controversial matters, and try to approach the subject with a sincere desire not to treat it as a mere political contest, to be turned to the advantage of this or that Party, but to deal with it in the interests of those classes for whom so many on both sides of the House are conscientiously striving, and with a wish to contribute towards a settlement of the allotments question. Now, I am very glad to gather from what has fallen from the First Lord of the Treasury that the President of the Local Government Board in all probability will not move the Amendment of which he has given notice; and I sincerely believe that, if he does not move it, he will contribute towards our getting through the business of the day, and I may assure him, not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of others, that if this Amendment is not moved no advantage will be taken of it.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
Perhaps I may be allowed to say that after what you, Mr. Speaker, have said, I shall not move the Amendment.
§ *MR. COBB
I am glad to find that the Instruction which I put down on the Notice Paper, without any knowledge that any other Instruction was going to be put down—I never saw the other notices until they actually appeared on the Paper— I am very glad to see now that the terms of my notice are so wide in their scope that they include the objects sought to be attained by the other notices. My Instruction, it will be observed, treats of two distinct matters. First, I propose that the Committee shall be instructed to create popularly elected Local Authorities in smaller areas than the present areas of Sanitary Authorities, and of course I need not say that I point to Parish Councils. Then, secondly, I propose to confer on these authorities larger powers than the present Sanitary Au- 26 thorities now have for acquiring and managing land for the purposes of allotments. I am very anxious in my remarks to put with perfect clearness the issue I wish to raise. I shall, of course, go to a Division on my Motion, that is if I do not persuade the Government to agree to it, which I hope I may succeed in doing; but if the House goes to a Division, the issue before hon. Members will be perfectly clear. Those who vote for my Instruction will vote in favour of Parish Councils having power to acquire land for allotments, and those who vote against me will be expressing an opinion that it is better that Parish Councils should not have that power. Now a few words on the first part of my Instruction, as to what Local Authority is to have the power of acquiring land for allotments. I think everyone will agree, whether they agree with other remarks I may make or not, that the success of an allotment system mainly depends upon the authority which is to put that system into force. It seems to me, with regard to the Bill which the Government have introduced, that we do not want so much to have an appeal from the authority which is admitted to be an inefficient authority, but we want to have an efficient authority to administer the Act in such a way that there shall be no occasion for any appeal from its decisions. Now to come to the question, which is the question after all, what is the best authority to exercise power in regard to allotments? I remember very well when the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board brought in the Allotments Bill in 1887—in July I think it was—he said—"We think that the area of the county is too large;" he was speaking of the area over which the authority which was to have control of allotments ought to rule; that was, of course, before County Councils were inaugurated. Now, I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman in that remark. But what do the Government now propose? The right hon. Gentleman in the first Amendment which he put down to my Instruction said that the whole scope of the Bill now before the House was to provide an appeal from the Sanitary Authority. Now I think that is hardly so. It seems to me that the scope of the Bill, at all events in certain cases where the Sani- 27 tary Authorities fails to carry oat their duty, goes beyond this. The Bill is an admission that in certain cases there are failures of duty on the part of Sanitary Authorities, but then it does not simply provide that there shall be an appeal to the County Council, in the sense in which we generally understand an appeal, namely, to correct the failure of the Sanitary Authority, and to compel that authority to do its duty; but it actually hands over in these cases all powers of every description, and all authority under the Allotments Act of 1887 to the County Council. In fact, in these cases, the Bill dissolves the smaller authority. [Cries of "No."] Yes, it is so. The Sanitary Authority is dissolved for the purposes of the Allotments Act, and its powers under that Act are given to the County Council. It comes to this: that the Authority is driven away, ousted from the smaller area, and transferred to the County Council, whose powers extend over the whole county, which is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to be too large an area for the purposes of the Allotments Act. This, in fact, is not an appeal Bill, but a Bill for creating a new Allotments Authority altogether, and that in an area which the right hon. Gentleman recognises as too large for the purpose. Then the question arises, what is the proper authority for the purpose, and within what area should it exercise control? The Government have admitted that the Sanitary Authority — in rural districts the Board of Guardians — is not a satisfactory authority. The right hon. Gentleman the other night, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said he had never pretended that the Sanitary Authority was an entirely satisfactory authority; and I think there is no Member on this or the other side, who has any knowledge of local administration in the rural districts, who does not know that the right hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying this. Go into any village and ask any man, from the artisan and labouring classes whether the Board of Guardians does its duty in that village, and I am afraid that in 19 cases out of 20 the reply will be very unsatisfactory. Further, even if the people had confidence in the Board of Guardians, which I say they have not upon the whole; if Boards 28 of Guardians were really anxious and willing, which I am afraid in too many cases they are not—in fact, the very introduction of this Bill shows that in some cases they are not— they are absolutely unfitted for the carrying out of the powers under the Allotments Act, because they are acting in too large an area. The reason is obvious. Guardians come from different parishes, and those coming from one parish may be absolutely ignorant, and often, in my own experience, are absolutely ignorant, of the wants and wishes of the people in another parish. A Guardian, as a rule, knows nothing of the local requirements of any parish in the Union except his own. Now, the scheme of the Allotments Act of 1887 in rural districts is that separate allotments shall be provided for each separate parish; and not only that, but that the rents of those allotments are to be paid in each parish by the men in the parish; and that if there is any excess of expenditure, if the rents are not sufficient to pay the cost of the allotments, then the extra cost is borne not by the whole county or Union, but by the parish in which those allotments are situated. Surely then, this being so, and the provision of allotments being regarded under the Act as an absolutely local parochial matter, why in the world is the parish not to be the area for allotments, and why are not Parish Councils to possess authority to acquire land for allotments and to manage them 2 Of course, when I refer to Parish Councils, I mean—and this goes without saying—Councils popularly elected on the one man one vote principle, and under the protection of the Ballot. What objection, I ask, have the Government to Parish Councils? In July, 1887, when the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Allotments Bill, I remember he gave us, so far as I was able to understand his speech, and so far as I can understand it from reading the speech again, two objections to the parish, and they were these: He said he thought, in regard to the acquisition of allotments, that the organisation of the parish was not efficient. That was his first objection. His second objection was that there was such a large number of very small parishes. Now, everyone who looks into the subject must admit the force of both of these objections. I 29 admit it myself. The right hon. Gentleman emphasised the expression of his view in another interesting speech in August, 1887, upon another stage of the Bill. He said then, speaking of Parish Vestries (and Parish Councils would, I imagine, be elected by the Vestries), that under its present organisation the Parish Vestry was the most likely Body to be open to the influence of landowners, and he gave as his reason that in the Vestry there was plural voting and there was not the protection of the Ballot. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman so far. But we have never asked that Parish Councils should be elected under plural voting and without the Ballot. My Instruction, which I am now moving, refers to a popularly-elected Body, and, of course, one of the first things to do is to reform the Vestry and make it a really popular Body. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman, in the following month, in September 1887, promised us that at the earliest possible date a Bill would be introduced placing all Local Government on a more popular basis, and he was very particular in saying that he did not at all confine his remarks to County Councils, but to every Authority in rural districts, and, of course, that would include Parish Vestries. One word in reference to the smallness of parishes. We know what an immense number of very small parishes there are. I forget the number, but I know there are scores of parishes with not more than 25 inhabitants, and including not more than five or six ratepayers. Of course, I agree that it would be ludicrous in a parish of this sort to have a Parish Council; but these cases could be easily met by a provision for adding such minute parishes to the adjoining parishes, and providing some minimum population, say 200 or 300 inhabitants, which is a matter for discussion and arrangement. So far as I can see, the two objections raised by the right hon. Gentleman in 1887 can be easily met under my Instruction. I should like to know why the Government seem so afraid of Parish Councils. The Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot be afraid of them, because we all remember the Bill which he introduced, if I remember rightly, in 1869, when he was a Member of the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and in his 30 speech upon that Bill no one could have praised the parish more than the Chancellor of the Exchequer did. Over and over again he said he considered the parish was the proper unit for Local Government, and he spoke of the chief men in the parish and other matters to which I need not now refer. Again, when the right hon. Gentleman was candidate for Edinburgh in 1885 he confirmed the view he had expressed in 1869, and in much stronger language. Of course, I know what the answer to me will be. The President of the Local Government Board will say that this is all very well, but that it involves a large reform, and will require a large Bill. Now, my experience in this House has not been long, and I do not presume to say that my opinion is valuable; but I can say, after giving much attention to this subject, that I believe that if at this stage my Instruction is accepted and the Committee sets to work to amend the Bill, giving to Parish Councils authority over allotments, giving them power to acquire land and to manage allotments, I say I believe that in the long run an immense deal of time will be saved, because obviously in the end we must come to what I am now proposing. Now, I may be allowed a few more words in order to show how important this matter is. It has progressed very fast in the last few years. It stands in a very different position now to that which it occupied in 1885, when agricultural labourers had the vote given to them by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. It has gone forward not only in the last five years, but a good deal within the last three years, aye in the last two years, and even within the last twelve months. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian is in favour of the proposals which I now make, and expressed his approval in plain language in his speech at Manchester last December. The leaders of the Liberal Party are in favour of it, as appears from the speeches of Lord Rosebery and of the right hon. Members for Derby and Newcastle (Sir W. Harcourt and Mr. Morley). The principle is also approved by a statesman who is not now in this House, but who knows I suppose everybody will admit, more perhaps about Local Government than any other man in the country—I mean Sir Charles 31 Dilke. In 1885, in his celebrated speech, which no doubt is in the memory of nearly everyone in the House, the speech delivered in Halifax in October of that year Sir Charles Dilke distinctly expressed and advocated the view that the parish should have the power to acquire land compulsorily for allotments and to carry out all the powers in the Bill then before the House, and which was introduced by the hon. Gentleman who sits beside me (Mr. Jesse Ceilings). Further, I may quote the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), because in a speech which, if I remember aright, he made the day after Sir Charles Dilke spoke at Halifax— a very forcible speech — one of the many speeches which he made in 1885, and which I admit to the full did an immense deal to press on the question of allotments—in the speech I refer to the right hon. Gentleman in so many words adopted Sir Charles Dilke's scheme in every detail, and used words which I will read to the House. I am quoting from the authorised edition, edited by Mr. Lucy, of the Unauthorised Programme [Mr. JESSE COLLINGS: Hear, hear!] My hon. Friend says "Hear, hear," and I agree with him. The effect of this speech upon me is just the same to-day as it was in 1885, and I have just as much respect for the sentiments it contains, and I may add that many of us liked those sentiments none the less because they formed part of an Unauthorised Programme. The words the right hon. Gentleman used were these:I will only say briefly of them (alluding to Sir Charles Dilke's proposals) in a sentence that they comprise the idea of a thoroughly popular Local Government in every village, in every Union, in every county, which shall be given the largest powers and widest discretion, by which the local affairs of the people shall be conducted without supervision 6r interference.Now, we say that not only are allotments not free from supervision and interference, but that there is a great deal too much supervision and interference. From the Instructions and the Amendments which the hon. Member for Hornsey has given notice of, and which might almost have been copied from the Bill which I introduced in 1887, I am glad, also, to find that there is a strong opinion on the other side of the House that Parish 32 Councils or Committees must be the Local Authority to deal with allotments I may mention another Authority, whom I daresay some hon. Members on the other side may not care to accept, but who, undoubtedly, is acquainted with the wants and wishes of agricultural labourers. I mean Mr. Joseph Arch, and his opinion shortly expressed in a letter to myself is that—Any Allotments Act to really benefit the labourers must place the acquisition of land in the hands of Parish Councils elected by the ratepayers.It is notorious to every hon. Member who has had the opportunity of getting the opinion of artisans and labourers at public meetings that this is also their view. I gather from what was said on the Second Reading that the Government seem to point to District Councils as the Local Authority to deal with allotments, but let me say at once that the same objection applies to this as to Sanitary Authorities and Boards of Guardians as respects area. Why, as a rule, is the work of the Guardians not well done, and why are they unpopular? Mainly because in dealing with any particular pariah, from want of local knowledge, most of them are ignorant of the subject before them. Upon this point the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian spoke at Manchester in December last. In speaking of allotments, he said—Perhaps not even the County Council can know the exact circumstances of every portion of the county. The members of District Councils might not be minutely acquainted with them. You must go to the doors of the men who are immediately concerned. You must get from them and from their immediate neighbours the fullest advantage of local knowledge.But now a few words on the second part of my Instruction, as to granting larger powers. That necessarily includes not only giving the Local Authority additional powers, but also the simplification of, and removing restrictions from, the powers they now possess. I am not going to deal with this large question at any length, because I feel that I shall be touching on subjects that are raised by the Instructions of other Members. It will be found that other Gentlemen have taken action on this matter since the passing of the Allotments Act of 1887. For instance, 33 after I introduced my Amendment Bill in 1888, a Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for South Essex, and it is backed by several hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. It meets a great many difficulties which we on this side raised in the Amendments which we proposed to the Allotments Bill of 1887. It would have been better if some of those Amendments had been carried —such as the one providing that no Act of Parliament should be required to con firm the Provisional Order, such as that extending the size of allotments, and such as that providing that there should be no payment of rent in advance. But there is one power—and I think probably it is the most important power—which is contained in two of the Instructions put down on this Bill, and that is the power proposed to be given to the Sanitary Authority or the Parish Council of leasing land compulsorily for the purposes of allotments. It is obvious that would be a much cheaper operation, if it could be adopted, than the purchasing of land. It would avoid considerable expense, and the less the expense the less the rent the allotment holder will be liable to pay. I want to know, and I have never yet been able to understand, so I shall be obliged personally if the President of the Local Government Board will explain why it is that he is so much afraid of this compulsory leasing power. There is nothing new in it. It is included in the Irish Labourers' Amendment Act, 1885, the authorities under which possess compulsory leasing powers. In 1887 we on this side proposed Amendments to give this power, and in 1888 I included it in my Allotments Amendment Bill. I cannot understand why the Government should not put in a clause giving the Local Authority power to acquire land compulsorily by lease. Of course, I cannot expect the right hon. Gentleman to adopt my advice; but I know he has great respect for County Councils, and it happens that in the county a part of which I have the honour to represent there is an active County Council. A member of that Council is a gentleman who has devoted more time than most of the members to the question of allotments. I refer to Mr. Darlington. He is a Conservative, and I had the honour of being opposed by him at the election of 1885, but he paid me the high compliment of 34 adopting the principle which I am advocating, and which I had previously included in my Bill of 1888, in a resolution which he proposed and carried at the Warwickshire County Council in favour of compulsory leasing. I beg to press upon the right hon. Gentleman to meet us on this point, if he cannot on any other. I put it to the Government that this Bill will not settle the Allotments Question, but if my Instruction be adopted, it will go a long way towards securing that settlement. I believe the Allotments Question will never be settled until the powers are put into the hands of a Parish Council. I think it will not be finally settled until we do away with the individual relations between landlord and tenant as to allotments, and until, in every case, the allotment holder is the tenant of an authority in the election of which he himself has a voice. I appeal—whether hopelessly or not remains to be seen—to the Government to accept this Instruction. If they will do so, I can say for myself, and I believe I may say it for my hon. Friends on this side of the House, that we will do everything in our power to forward the measure, which will be accepted, if so enlarged, with gratitude all over the country. If the Government will not accept the Instruction, we have a perfectly plain issue before us, and we shall divide upon it.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert Clauses in the Bill, creating by popular election Local Authorities in smaller areas than those of the Sanitary Authorities, and to confer upon them larger powers for acquiring and managing land for the purposes of allotments than those now vested in Sanitary Authorities under 'The Allotments Act, 1887.'"—(Mr. Cobb.)
§ (4.7.) MR. F. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
I rise for the purpose of seconding the Instruction moved by the hon. Member for the Rugby Division. I should like, in the first place, to accentuate still further the point that it will be necessary to enlarge the powers of acquisition, and among them the compulsory powers of leasing. There is nothing new in the suggestion; it was embodied in an Irish measure in L885 and in the Scotch Crofters' Act of 188G. Anyone who is acquainted with the rural districts knows it is much easier, simpler, and more expeditions to 35 acquire land by compulsory hiring than by purchase, which involves to a greater extent the intervention of lawyers. The most effective manner of amending the Allotments Act would be to enlarge its powers. Now, what is to be the nature of the authority to which the Government propose there shall be an appeal from the Sanitary Authority? It is the County Council. That, no doubt, is a step in advance, inasmuch as it is an appeal from an authority not elected upon a popular basis to an authority which is. But the improvement is not so great as at first sight appears, because the County Council cannot have all the knowledge which is required for dealing with local questions effectively. In Suffolk there are two County Councils, one for East and one for West Suffolk. They have made inquiries each in a different way. The West Suffolk Council made inquiries through the instrumentality of the members of the Council, each member conducting the inquiry in the Division he represented. In some cases the investigation was thorough, because the member was energetic; in other cases there was practically no result at all. In the case of East Suffolk the inquiry was made by means of letters addressed to public officers in each parish, and here, again, the result was not satisfactory, owing to the great uncertainty as to the nature of the inquiry. In some cases the officers got the information asked for, in other cases they were either unable or unwilling to get it. But in the case of neither Division was the result satisfactory; because, though they may have got some knowledge of the number of allotments which are held, there was no possibility of obtaining adequate information as to the demand for them. The moral is that County Councils as now constituted are too large to make inquiries in the way in which inquiries should be conducted. The solution which commends itself to many minds is that every parish should be entrusted with powers for dealing with its own affairs, and there is no point on which keener interest is felt than that of dealing with allotments. Of course, as has been pointed out, it will be necessary to differentiate between the parishes, as some may be too small. In some they might be left to manage their own 36 affairs by means of Vestry meetings held at an hour when the labourers can attend, and at which the voting shall be by ballot, and polls taken when necessary on the "one man one vote" principle. And then, when we come to the larger parishes, I think there could be no better authority than Parochial Councils elected by ballot. There is a growing conviction on the part of those interested in this matter that it will be absolutely impossible to settle the allotments difficulty until you have conferred upon those most concerned the management of public affairs. I trust the Government will make the acquisition of allotments more easy and will not confine this Bill to the creation of a power of appeal. I think it is incumbent on the Government to do something in order to meet this difficulty of the non-government of parishes at the present time.
§ (4.17.) MR. E. H. LLEWELLYN) (Somerset, N.
This is not the first time this question has come before the House, and I have endeavoured to discover on what new grounds the formation of these Parish Councils is recommended. In certain parishes no doubt a Parish Authority might be constituted, and could deal with the Allotments Question, but there are very few of those parishes. If I could see a way to the practical solution of this difficulty, I should be in favour of the formation of Parish Councils. But I have failed to find out what the work is that the Parish Councils are to perform. Hon. Members have spoken as if the formation of these Councils would be easy and certain of success. But some parishes are too small.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
And the last parishes which should be grouped together are those which adjoin, as in many cases there are feuds between the inhabitants which have been carried on for generations, and I have in my mind's eye several parishes where it would be a positive folly to try and group them. What machinery has a parish at present, or what is it likely to have, for carrying out the Act? It would be necessary to create the machinery and to appoint public officers, and the expense of that would 37 fall on the parish alone. At present the preliminary stages of the Act are carried out by the Local Sanitary Authority, which cannot take a step without the authority of the parish, because the expense has to be borne by the last-named Body. An Authority would not ignore an application for allotments without giving reasons for so doing; they hold an inquiry on the spot, and no step is taken without the authority and co-operation of the parish. It is only natural that it should be so.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
I know of no case in which the Sanitary Authority has taken the responsibility without first consulting the area immediately interested. As usual, several hon. Gentlemen have abused the Guardians; but I consider it is unfair and ungenerous on the part of hon. Members with no experience of Boards of Guardians themselves to bring such charges against men who do both good and hard work. An hon. Member has said that he is looking forward to the time when all allotments will be held under a Public Authority. But will he bear in mind the difference in the position of tenants under a Public Board and those under private individuals? A man may have a bad year, his crops may fail and his animals die; consequently he cannot pay his rent. If he holds under a Public Board, that rent must be paid punctually on the day it is due; no leniency can be shown. But if he holds his allotment under a private landowner, he may have time given him to recover himself and many ways may offer to enable him to discharge his debt. I think that this Bill is an improvement, and will be considered to be so by the country, and I hope the House will see the necessity of passing it. The Bill will go a long way towards meeting the requirements which are felt, and improving the present Act, which in a great many cases is thought to be a vast boon, and is greatly appreciated.
§ *(4.26.) MR. R. T. GURDON (Norfolk, Mid)
May I point out that there are two kinds of parishes in the country —close parishes, which are in the hands of one or two large landowners, and in which there is no difficulty about allotments; and what are called open parishes, 38 in which there are a large number of small owners and occupiers? Here there is considerable difficulty in getting allotments, although there is plenty of land on the outskirts of the parish which is of no use at all. I think it will be generally agreed that allotments are of no use to a labourer unless situated within easy reach of his own home. But in these open parishes the land in the centre is probably let in small holdings of 15, 20, or 25 acres to men not very far removed from the position of labourers, and who would think it very hard to have the holdings reduced 10 or 11 acres in order to supply allotments. It is very little consolation to Naboth when you take away his vineyard to say that you do so for a good purpose. We are accustomed to have Boards of Guardians abused in Debates in this House; but I believe they have, as a rule, done their duty well in connection with allotments. I know several gentlemen who have spent days and even weeks driving about the country persuading, cajoling, and even threatening farmers and landowners to give up land which was desired for allotment purposes. Of course, there is considerable difficulty in carrying out the Act, because there is a certain amount of unpopularity attaching to the enforcement of it. The burden should, therefore, be placed on the shoulders of a pretty strong Body. I am anxious not to overburden County Councils, but I do not think there is danger of that in the Government proposal. I think the Council will have no difficulty in doing the work, and as to their not having sufficient local knowledge, of course they will appoint a sub-Committee to make all necessary local inquiry, and upon the information gathered the Council will be able to bring the whole affair to a satisfactory conclusion. I cannot support the Instruction, because I regard it as a movement in a retrograde rather than a for ward direction.
§ *(4.30.) MR. RITCHIE
I have no wish to shorten discussion unduly, but I hope the House will not consider it necessary that the discussion of this Instruction should be of a lengthened character. I further hope the House will support the Government in the position they propose to take up, which is that this is a Bill of a very simple character, with one object of a 39 practical kind. That object is the setting up of a Court of Appeal over the existing Sanitary Authority, and I have every hope that whatever may be the proposals made, and whatever arguments may be used, the House will not be drawn away from that object to any other suggested amendments of the original Act. If every time a small amendment of an Act is proposed the House allows its attention to be directed to other proposed amendments of the original measure, a blow will be struck against small amending Bills when experience shows an amendment to be extremely desirable, useful, and necessary. Unquestionably, the hon. Member for the Rugby Division has raised a very large number of extremely important questions in connection with the Instruction he has moved. He desires, in the first place, to substitute for the existing authority, Parish Councils; and he acknowledges himself that if Parish Councils be adopted it is essential that the variations in the size of parishes should bo taken into account, and that there must be division of the larger parishes, and amalgamation of the smaller ones. Now, anyone who knows what the existing feeling in parishes is, will thoroughly understand the enormous difficulty in connection with this subject. I am not at all prepared to deny that when we come to deal with District Councils and the whole question of local administration, it may be possible and, in fact, desirable to deal with this difficult question of parishes; but to raise the question now and deal with it on this Motion is a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with part of a large subject. If Parish Councils are to be set up no one will be content that they should only have the duty of dealing with allotments, and, therefore, the House would have to consider many other powers, which the hon. Member and his friends may desire to confer upon these Councils. I am not here to argue against Parish Councils generally; it is not necessary to do so, and it would not be right or proper, on this narrow issue, to argue the whole question. I hope the House will see that it would be entering an arena of a large and extensive character, and it would occupy very considerable time to discuss at length the proposals embraced in the Instruction of the hon. Member, and 40 the other Instructions of which notice has been given. Take, for instance, one proposal—that power should be given to increase the size of allotments. That raises the whole question of small holdings, and whether or not they should be placed on the same footing as allotments. Then, again, among other things, it is further proposed that these Parish Councils should have the power of acquiring land compulsorily, which will involve rating powers. [Cries of "No, no!]"Surely if power is given to compulsorily acquire land for the purpose of allotments that entails rating powers, or I do not know what does. The hon. Member not only proposes that this authority should have power to acquire land compulsorily, but that they should exercise this power without coming to Parliament at all. Now, this opens one of the largest questions it is possible to conceive in connection with local administration, whether or not the existing law, with reference to the acquisition of land compulsorily, and which provides for Parliamentary sanction for every such application, for any object, public or private, for which land can be acquired, shall be set aside in the case of allotments under powers expressly given to Parish Councils. Now, this proposition involves the possibility of a tremendous change in the law, and yet this is what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby asks us to consider on a Bill which proposes merely to set up the means of an appeal to a popularly elected body against the authority which, in the opinion of some, does not on all occasions perform its duty as it should. No one objects to the proposal of the Government so far as it goes.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Yes, I do.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
Well, then, one hon. Member objects ["And others"], but, as far as I understand, the principle that there should be an appeal to a popularly elected body is not generally objected to, even by hon. Members on the other side. If the proposal of the hon. Member for Rugby were accepted I say at once, without hesitation, that it would compel the Government to abandon the Bill, because the Instruction would open up so many subjects, for the consideration of which it would be impossible to find time this Session. That is my objection to the proposal of the hon. Member. I hope 41 I shall not be considered as being guilty of any want of courtesy if I do not enter into the merits of the proposal. My objection simply is that the Instruction would enlarge so greatly the scope of the Bill that the acceptance of it would be a death blow to the Bill. As I am the father of the Bill, I object to my offspring being destroyed in such a manner. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. Llewellyn) in his remarks upon Boards of Guardians, and I take strong exception to the observations of the hon. Member for Rugby, which he seemed to imply were generally applicable to Boards of Guardians, that they perform their duties badly. I do not deny that there have been some who have not performed their duty in a satisfactory manner, as there are also Municipal Councils who do not always do their duty; but I cannot condemn all Boards of Guardians any more than I would condemn Municipal Councils for the faults of one or two. But the hon. Member for Rugby knows perfectly well we did not create Boards of Guardians in order to constitute them the Local Authorities for this purpose, and in making them the Local Authorities under the Act, we acknowledged that they were not as suitable as could be desired, but they were the most suitable that could be obtained at the time; and we undertook, and I undertake again, that when we come to the constitution of District Councils one of the duties that will have to be thrown upon them will be the administration of the Allotments Act. It must not be supposed that because I am not prepared to assent to this Motion and do not now go into the whole argument—pro and con it must not be supposed that the question of parishes is entirely lost sight of in the mind of the Government. It must not be assumed that because I decline to accept the Instruction now, that when the time comes to deal with the question of Local Government in smaller areas within the county, and to set up authorities for dealing with allotments, among other purposes, it must not be imagined that this question of parochial administration is one we decline altogether to consider. For the reason I have given that this is simply an Appeal 42 Bill, I ask the House not to go one jot or tittle beyond its purpose, for if they do it will lead us too far afield, and we shall embark on a course which will lead to the destruction of the Bill.
§ *(4.40.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
The right hon. Gentleman has met your suggestion, Sir, in such a handsome way, declaring that he will not move his Amendment, that, so far as we are concerned, we can assure him that he need be under no apprehension that this discussion will be carried beyond the present Sitting, and I think he will hardly grudge us a discussion to that extent upon a subject in which we take a genuine interest, and an interest which should be above the suspicion of obstruction to the passing if the measure. We did not obstruct the measure before, and have no disposition to do so now. The number of notices on the Paper are not evidence of any such desire, but rather an indication of the deep interest Members feel and desire to express, and this I maintain, the sceptical smile of the leader of the House notwithstanding. Before attending to the remarks of the President of the Local Government Board, I wish to refer to a statement by the hon. Member for Rugby, against which, I understand, the right hon. Gen-leman protested, though he did not deal with it in his speech. The hon. Member for Rugby said the acceptance of the appeal would oust the control of the Sanitary Authority in the district, and I understood the right hon. Gentleman to object to the accuracy of the statement. I believe the objection is founded on the 3rd clause, but if, as I understand, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to omit this clause in Committee, then the objection will no longer apply, unless it should apply to any Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman. I must not go into Committee Amendments now, but I may point out that the clause would certainly oust the Sanitary Authority so far as allotments are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman has said quite truly that it is not a fitting or a just thing that we should, if we ever do, attack generally or in general terms the conduct and the administration of the Poor Law and of the Sanitary Laws by Boards of Guardians in this country. I agree with him and having been Pre- 43 sident of the Local Government Board, I I know something of the operations of Boards of Guardians, and have reason to understand and respect them. But the right hon. Gentleman has confessed that they are not the best authority to entrust with the administration of the Allotments Act, and this for simple reasons easily stated. In the first place, the area of their authority is too large and their functions too many. I do not think I am saying anything disrespectful to Boards of Guardians when I express my belief that they fulfil their duties as Poor Law administrators with far greater success, and with the sacrifice of more time and labour, than is the case with their administration of those Sanitary Laws, duties which I, myself, was instrumental in fixing upon them. It is natural that they should primarily have regard to the first functions entrusted to them, other duties taking a secondary place, and I think that some time we must relieve the Guardians of their sanitary functions and the powers in reference to allotments, transferring the control to authorities within smaller areas. There is another objection to which I refer, and it is not the fault of the Guardians that the method by which they are chosen is not a popular method; they are elected on the plural vote and without the protection of the Ballot. County Councils are elected on household suffrage and with the Ballot. The two systems cannot exist together, and if they come into contact you cannot prevent Boards of Guardians losing their status until they are elected on the same basis as County Councils. There is a third reason, and with that I approach the question of parishes, upon which I observe there is a natural division of opinion. I have never endeavoured to be absolute in the expression of ray opinion, but this I do believe; that it is essential for the perfection, for the development of Local Government—for the training of the people for Local Government—that it should be, as far as possible, brought home to the doors of the humblest, and, therefore, I agree in thinking that Parochial Councils or Vestries, with power to appoint Committees, are essential in the future. I do not say you must take the parish as a unit; undoubtedly, you will have, in some cases, to group 44 parishes, and this may be attempted by the right hon. Gentleman or a successor. Whatever the unit of Local Government may be, upon that unit must be imposed the duties fitted for that particular area in which they exist. That area may be called the parish of the future. Though the hon. Member for Rugby has spoken largely, and with enthusiastic conviction, of the creation of Parochial Councils, his Motion is not exactly worded in this way, and affords a margin for variations of opinion as to the best method of carrying out his proposal—That the Committee should have power to insert clauses creating by popular election Local Authorities in smaller areas than those of the Sanitary Authorities, and to confer upon them larger powers for acquiring and managing land for allotments.That this is a perfectly sound view it is difficult to gainsay. Under the existing Act, even when amended by this Bill, the machinery is cumbrous, costly, tedious, and uncertain. I do not think you will do any good whatever, even with smaller areas, until you simplify the machinery. You cannot prevent this being a parish question to whatever authority you give the power to deal with it. I share the opinion of the hon. Member that it is impossible to take any further step towards enlarging local powers until yon have created these smaller units. The hon. Member has spoken of larger powers, but I will not go into that subject. I think there ought to be larger powers in whatever authority deals with allotments and most important, in my view, is the power of compulsory purchase at fair market value. Anyone who looks back at the history in recent years of all attempts to improve the sanitary condition of our towns, by pulling down unsanitary houses and erecting sanitary-dwellings, must know the immense difficulty always has been the cost arising from the fact that the owner of the unsanitary property, who has no right to any profit at all upon dwellings in such a condition, is allowed to have an extra profit on that account. He gets more for the property than if it was in a sanitary condition, besides exacting an extra 10 per cent. because of the compulsory sale. The moment it is admitted that it is for the public benefit that the land should be 45 taken, then I maintain the owner should be required to sell it at the fair market value. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who has had great experience in public improvements in the city which he represents, said in June, 1886, that the ratepayers of Birmingham had been mulcted in 15 to 50 per cent. more than the real value on property purchased for public improvements, and that, in his opinion, a fair value only should be paid for land bought for public purposes. I entirely adopt that principle. I hope the President of the Local Government Board will understand that this Instruction is not moved from any want of respect for him, or want of belief in his intentions, for I believe in his intentions, but those who support the proposal desire to take this opportunity of putting on record their view in the terms of the Instruction which I feel it my duty to support.
§ (4.55.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
Things are so absolutely bad in regard to allotments in the Division I represent, that I feel strongly tempted to support this Resolution. Under the Rural Sanitary Authority in South-East Essex, with rent at £1 an acre, under cultivation, whenever we can get a tenant, which is an exceptional tiling with us, when land is going out of cultivation wholesale, and with three derelict farms within 100 yards of my own house—under these circumstances we find it impossible to get land for allotments under 40s. an acre, and we have great difficulty in getting it at that. Under the circumstances, one is almost tempted to clutch even at the straw held out by the hon. Member for Rugby. I cannot, however, help thinking, after what the President of the Local Government Board has said, that it would be better to let the Government deal with the question when they see a chance, always under the supposition that the Parish Council is the ultimate solution of the allotments question. I regret that the Resolution of the right hon. Member for Bradford cannot be taken, because it embodies the provisions of a Bill I have introduced on the subject.
§ (4.57.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
The Instruction of the hon. Member for Rugby is in two parts, the first having reference to the setting up of a new authority, and the second 46 the enlargement of the power of the authority to acquire land. It appears to me that this second part practically carries out the Instruction of which I gave notice. I am glad to hear the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down say he would have been prepared to support my Instruction. I may say that I referred to the measure of the hon. and gallant Member merely by way of explanation, and that it was through misunderstanding the clerk's reply that I inserted the specific reference to the Bill. It seems to mo very unfortunate that, having before us this Bill dealing with allotments, we should not have power to deal with questions relating to that subject upon which every Member in the House seems to be agreed. At all events, I trust the right hon. Gentleman will agree to the second part of the Instruction. When the present Act was passing through the House, two years ago, we predicted that it would not have the effect expected by the right hon. Gentleman, and although it has had some indirect effect in inducing landlords to give allotments, which we always expected, it has had little or no effect in inducing Local Authorities to buy land compulsorily. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, even now, to accept the half of the Instruction of the hon. Member for Rugby Division, and, to allow the House to go into these important matters.
§ (5.4.) MR. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)
The hon. Member for Rugby has put before the President of the Local Government Board a task before which he may well quail, in the construction of Parish Councils for the special purposes of this Bill. The machinery which I propose to employ is very different from that proposed by the hon. Member for Rugby. Instead of Parish Councils I propose that we should make use of the long established and most successful Local Authority which we possess—namely, the ancient Vestries of our parishes. Speaking of the Act of 1887, the hon. Member for North Somerset said—The Rural Sanitary Authority dare not carry out the Act. It must wait until it is instructed by the parish, so it is quite clear the ordinary operation of affairs by natural selection has marked out the parishes as the proper bodies to be entrusted with this duty.The cry about the difficulty of small parishes is a mere bugbear. Out of 47 15,000 parishes in this country there are only 773 which have a population of under 50 parsons. The hon. Member for Rugby proposes to entrust compulsory powers to the Parish Council. It is quite impossible for parishes, as parishes, to give effect to compulsory powers. It may be regarded as a singular opinion, but I think that the transaction of local affairs by heaping them pell-mell upon a few men and withdrawing them from the great body of ratepayers is not a wise or a salutary mode of conducting local affairs. We are asked at the periodical time to vote for certain persons. Into their charge everything is entrusted, and it matters not how much opposed the ratepayers are to the way in which their affairs are administered, they are for a long term completely helpless. In many parishes there are now Ratepayers' Associations. What can be more absurd than that the ratepayers should elect a Local Board, and immediately afterwards proceed to elect another Board, called the Ratepayers' Association, to watch, defeat, and obstruct the Local Board? I prefer the ancient mode of Local Government in England by which all the ratepayers are brought into and kept in local knowledge, and their interest sustained in business in which they all share. If the business is merely done by a few persons it may be too late when an election comes round to undo what has been done against the wishes of the electors. As to this Bill, I fear that, as it stands, instead of curing, it will intensify the suspicion with which our legislation is already regarded. There is no disputing the failure of the Act of 1887, and what we ought to do is to try and detect the causes of failure which are contained in that Act, so as to avoid them in the legislation which we are now considering. I do not think that these causes have been recognised with sufficient precision, and the very nature of the Bill now before the House shows it. I take it that the causes of failure of the Act of 1887 are the large area of the authority and the remoteness of the meeting place. Only a few persons can serve as Guardians; indeed, people have to be coaxed to become Guardians. You may say it is very desirable that an allotment holder should be on the Allotment Committee or Authority. Of course it is, but it is absurd to suppose that an 48 allotment holder can drive five or six miles and be at the place of meeting by 11 o'clock in the morning. A third cause is the want of intimate local knowledge and the apathy consequent upon it. It is hard to accuse the Sanitary Authorities in this respect; it is their misfortune, and not their fault. I have had a very varied experience in almost every form of local administration. I have been a Guardian for many years, and I confess I know hardly anything of the parishes excepting the one I represent. To some of them I have never been. It seems to me that this Bill is taking a still deeper plunge into the very same cause of failure. The area will be far larger, the meeting place will be still more remote, and the local knowledge will be much less. I believe that the Standing Committee proposed will be useless in operation, and I contend that it would be far better for the attainment of the object in view to build up from below, where knowledge and interest in the matter lie, than to break down from above by cutting up the County Council and making a Standing Committee. The working of this Bill will mean officialism, thorough and almost unchecked. First you have your local inquiry, your inspector and your lawyer, and, of course, enormous expense. The labouring man will see all this, and he will turn away from the Bill. On every ground it is desirable to allow the ratepayers of the parish to take the matter into their own hands, and, if possible, to acquire land for allotments by voluntary agreement among themselves. They are on the spot, and know all the circumstances, and there can be no stronger inducement to economy and prudence than for people to know that the money they are spending is their own and for their own purposes. By adopting this course, too, we shall promote the development of parochial action, whereas the Bill will have a contrary effect, and will lead to friction, unnecessary expense, and dissatisfaction. Allotments are intended to benefit the condition of the labouring poor, but I maintain that this object cannot be fully attained unless the people are enabled to share in the work themselves. I hope that on this side, at any rate, we may share in this work, because I do not think anyone can doubt that there is no 49 more Conservative thing we can do than quicken the parochial life of the country.
§ *(5.20.) MR. SEALE-HAYNE (Devon, Ashburton)
I promise not to detain the House long; I rise for the purpose of addressing myself mainly to two points. In the first place, however, I wish to say that I think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board took rather a narrow view of the scope of this Bill. He said it was simply a measure to provide an appeal to the County Councils, but I have read it, and I find that, in addition to that, it will give the County Councils power to administer the Allotments Act—to become, in fact, an Allotments Authority—enabling them, amongst other things, to acquire land by compulsory purchase. The two points I desire to refer to are these: the principles of compulsorily leasing land for the purposes of allotments, and the principle of cheapening the present method of acquiring land by compulsory purchase; they come within the scope of the Bill, and I sincerely hope that when the measure is in Committee the President of the Local Government Board will introduce provisions dealing with these two points. It has been admitted that the Act docs not work well. In answer to a question some days ago the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board stated that 1,800 allotments had been provided under it, and as there were, according to the last census, about 550,000 agricultural labourers in the country, that will give only one allotment to about every 300 labourers, a proof that the Act has not been very effective.] will give the right hon. Gentleman a piece of my own personal experience in this matter. A short time ago some 25 labourers came to me and asked for allotments. I said I should be glad to give them allotments, but was anxious to test the operation of the right hon. Gentleman's Act, and I suggested that they should apply to the Sanitary Authority in order that a properly constituted Allotments Authority should be set up. These labourers west away, and in a month's time they came back to me and said they had been to the Sanitary Authority, but found that so much expense and difficulty would be involved that they would prefer taking the allotments from 50 me, and if this difficulty occurs in the case of a willing landlord, those which must be faced in the case of an unwilling landlord must be almost insuperable. The figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman show that I am correct in this. One of the reasons why the Act does not work is the cost of acquiring the power to obtain land by compulsory purchase through a Provisional Order, and I will give three instances in illustration, taken from the Return which was granted on my motion in 1888, and issued last year, selecting those cases only in which there are only one owner and one occupier. In the first case it cost the City of Bath £80 to acquire the power to obtain possession of only three poles of land for street improvements; in the second case it cost the Bridlington Local Authority £388 in respect to 21 acres required for a public walk; and in the third case the Rural Sanitary Authority of Newport paid £220 for the power to obtain three acres and one rood of land required for the construction of a reservoir. In these cases the cost merely of obtaining the necessary power exceeded, many times, I presume, the value of the laud itself. Now, I sincerely trust that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will see his way when the Bill is in Committee to introduce a cheaper mode of acquiring land for allotments; otherwise I am confident that failure will attend this Bill also. As to compulsory powers, the Amendment that stands on the Paper in my name is a very simple one, and is intended to give Local Authorities power to hire land compulsorily on equitable terms as to rent and length of lease. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman does not see his way to introduce clauses in the Bill to carry out this object. I drew attention to this when last we had the subject of allotments before us, and I was largely-supported in my view—amongst other Members by the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings). My proposal is one which must commend itself both to the Local Authority, which has to obtain the land, and to the landowner. The Local Authority would be relieved of the necessity of raising money by loan for the purchase of allotments, and the landowner would be benefited, as it would 51 save him from the necessity of parting with, say, the fee simple of a field in the middle of his estate which ho might desire to retain possession of, but might not object to let on lease. I beg to disclaim the slightest intention of in any way obstructing the Bill. My Amendment is a simple one, supported on both sides of the House, and I do trust the right hon. Gentleman will sec his way to accept it when the Bill is in Committee.
§ *(5.34.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
I can assure the hon. Gentleman opposite who has complained of the failure of Boards of Guardians to put this Bill into operation that in my part of the world the Boards of Guardians try to do their duty to the best of their ability, not only so far as the Poor Law is concerned, but so far as the powers of this Act are concerned. As to the statement of the hon. Member who last spoke about labourers going to him, and not being able to get allotments from the Rural Sanitary Authority, if be is not a Guardian—and I presume he is not, from the tone of his remarks—I would advise him to get himself elected, when he would be in a position to enforce the case of his friends on the attention of the Local Authority. I can give my experience of two Boards of Guardians in connection with the Allotments Act. There have been several applications for allotments before us, and in each case there has not been the slightest trouble experienced by the labourers in obtaining what they wanted at a very fair rate. I only mention this because so many hon. Members on the opposite side of the House hold that the Allotments Act has been inoperative. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey, speaking from his experience as a Guardian, says that he knows no more about "neighbouring parishes" than he does about a foreign country. Well, all I can say is that that is not my experience. I am familiar, not only with neighbouring parishes, but with every road and every cottage and almost every field within a radius of 20 miles of my own house. No doubt it would be a very nice thing if we could have these proposed Parish Councils; but, according to my experience, it is always a most difficult thing to collect people to attend even vestry meetings. When we have 52 vestry meetings, either for the purpose of electing Churchwardens or Guardians, we always experience the greatest difficulty in getting half a dozen people to attend them; and if, in addition to the vestries, we are to have another parish authority, you will be overburdening the people with elections. I do not think the people want elections of this sort. They already have elections for Members of Parliament and for County Councils, and now you wish to add to their burdens by giving them elections for Parish Councils. This is not called for, at any rate in my part of the country. I do not know what may be the state of things in other parts of the country, but in Hampshire the Boards of Guardians do all that is necessary; and I believe that even without an appeal to the County Council allotments will be given whenever they are required.
§ (5.37). MR. A. ACLAND (York, W.R., Rotherham)
Under any circumstances, I do not think the Board of Guardians can be a satisfactory tribunal to the man desiring allotments, as the landowner may have six votes at their election whilst the labourer has but one. The tone of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board is extremely encouraging compared with what it was two years ago, because it shows that the question of the 2'arish is going to be one of the most important points in his next Local Government Bill. I would venture to ask him whether this question of Parish Councils is to be an integral part of his District Councils Bill—which he has told us is already prepared—and will be introduced when we make way for it? The part that the parish will have to play in the future will be a very important one; and the sooner the right hon. Gentleman grapples with that part of the subject of Local Government the better it will be. The only way in which an interest in Local Government can be developed in the mind of the agricultural labourer is to bring the Local Authority near his own home, and thus to educate him for exercising the new responsibility which has been thrown upon him.
§ (5.41.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
We have had a very interesting discussion on the main points of Local Government, but 53 there has been very little said about this Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. H. C. Stephens) in his desire to revive the parish life.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member that it is not the Bill, but the Instruction which is now before the House.
§ (5.42.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS
Let us see how the matter stands with reference to the agricultural labourer and his present position. The Act of 1887 has been said to have been in operative. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not know whether that "hear, hear" means that it has had no operation, or that it has had an insufficient operation. Over 8,000 men have received allotments by the direct and indirect operation of the Act of 1887. Hon. Members seem to think an indirect operation is of no use. Let me call attention to a case in a Midland parish where we brought before the landlord the existence of this Act, the provisions of which he was not aware of. The landlord said, "If it is the law of the land that allotments are to be provided I will provide them," and the result of our application to him was that we got as much laud as was wanted at 10s. an acre, and the men are very well satisfied. This is what I call an indirect operation of the Act. I quite agree with those Members who say that the Boards of Guardians have not been altogether a satisfactory body to administer this Act. Some of them, however, have acted in a most satisfactory way. At Kingsclere the Local Authorities have been most assiduous in supplying all the wants of the men. In one case they positively went out of their way to secure a solitary allotment for a man who lived by himself a long way off the other labourers in the parish. I could give hundreds of similar cases. At the same time, there are some Boards of Guardians who have refused to do anything. We have always been told that the great defect of the Act of 1887 is that the Local Authorities can refuse to act if they choose, and that there is no Court of Appeal. Well, this Bill will provide a Court of Appeal in a cheap and easy way. Shortly after the Bill was introduced the Labourers' Chronicle stated that it entirely did away with the defects of the Act of 1887 in this respect—although I admit it has 54 since changed its tone. Now, Sir, why cannot we provide this remedy? I have a long list of cases in which men would be supplied with allotments immediately if a Court of Appeal were provided. I should be very glad to see a measure passed in the direction indicated in the proposed Instruction; but it seems a monstrous claim that the Government should take it bodily and put it into their Bill. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb) says the issue of the vote we are about to take is for or against Parish Councils.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
To my mind the real issue upon which we are going to vote is, whether we are or are not to defeat the Allotments Bill. It is evident, from what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has said, that if these Instructions are carried there is an end to the Bill, I cannot help sympathising with the Government in this matter. They have given us an Allotments Act, which they are now about to amend, and I have not heard any hon. Member speak against the Bill as far as it goes. The hon. Member for Rugby, as I understand, does not suggest that if his Instruction were adopted, it would not be necessary to re-arrange parishes in some way. The parish of Sutton, in his own county, contains 13,000 acres, whilst there are other parishes with about 500 acres. I know a parish in my county with as many as 60,000 acres, and, quite near it, a parish with 700 acres. The enormous amount of detail, and the enormous labour that would be involved in carrying out a measure of that character, afford good reason for the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, that it would be an absolute impossibility to get the Bill through this Session. Are the labourers to wait for another 12 months before they have the remedy which is now offered to them, and which the adoption of the Instruction would take out of their hands? I did not understand whether the hon. Member wished to give these Councils rating powers, in order that they might have funds for the purchase of the land, or whether they are simply to manage the allotments. If 55 he means to give them rating powers the intricacy would be much increased; whilst if they are only to manage the allotments the system will not be much-better than that which will be constituted under this Bill. I say, then, do not bring forward these proposals at the present time when their effect will be to delay a measure which hon. Members cannot deny supplies a great want, and will be for the great benefit of the labourers. IE these Instructions are carried, as I have already said, you kill the Bill. Is that a prospect hon. Members like to contemplate? I do not like to contemplate such a prospect. I know of no legislation in this country which has not been built up step by step; and I hope my hon. Friends are not going to prevent the taking of such a tremendous step forward as this Bill will enable us to make. I think it would be better, and that it would be more consistent with all our views, if we assisted the Government in this matter. I do beg hon. Members not to persist in a proposal the effect of which will be to smother a measure which clearly tends to benefit the class we all seek to serve. To my knowledge there are some scores of labouring men who cannot get allotments now, and who will be able to get them under this Bill if it be allowed to pass into law.
(6.0.) SIR WILLIAM HARCOORT (Derby)
I have to ask the House to consider in what position we stand, and in what position the Government stand, in reference to this Instruction, and also what are the objects of the Instruction. As I understand it, its object is to declare that the Bill as introduced by Her Majesty's Government—not that it is bad in itself—would be improved by being enlarged. That is the declaration of the Instruction. Now, Sir, who is the person who gets up and denies that proposition? It is my hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. J. Collings). The hon. Gentleman has himself an Allotment Bill (No. 2) on the Order Paper, the only justification for which is that it contains a great many things which are not in the Government Bill, and yet the hon. Gentleman gets up and says the Government Bill ought not to be enlarged. That, to my mind, is a most extraordinary position. It is as much as to say that although there are a 56 number of things which require to be amended or enlarged, he will, nevertheless, take every opportunity of preventing their being dealt with. Well, Sir, our position is a very difficult one. We say, by this Instruction, not that we desire to throw out the Bill, but that we admit there is a necessity for such a measure, and we wish to add 'something to it. Now, I suppose I must take the mind of Her Majesty's Government from what is done by the hon. Member for Bordesley. He, in fact, is the interpreter of the mind of Her Majesty's Government. He says, "For Heaven's sake don't enlarge this Bill, because anything that is added to it will destroy it."
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I simply repeated the words of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The eloquence of the hon. Member simply consists in repeating the sentences of Her Majesty's Government, not only on this question, but upon all other questions. Whatever Her Majesty's Government say the hon. Member for Bordesley repeats, and probably he thinks that that repetition adds a strength and force to what the Government say that otherwise it would not possess. No doubt we perfectly understand the position of the hon. Member for Bordesley, and I think it is also thoroughly understood by the people outside this House. For my part, I think Her Majesty's Government are more reasonable and intelligible on this subject than the hon. Member for Bordesley gives them credit for being; and I believe there are hon. Gentlemen on their own side of the House who would also desire that this Bill should, if possible, be extended, and that things should be inserted in it which are not in it. I believe, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford(Mr. Shaw Lefevre), that this Instruction may be divided into two parts. The first part of it enables the election of the Local Authority to be 'incorporated in the Bill, and that, undoubtedly, is an important matter, and would require extensive and distinct machinery, and I daresay that the adoption of this Instruction would lead to a very interesting discussion as to the character of the Local Authority. I listened with some interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for 57 Hornsey, who stated that the Parish Authority would be a most appropriate authority for dealing with the objects of this Bill, while the present Sanitary Authority or the County Councils would be altogether inappropriate. I also listened to the speech of the hon. Member for North Hampshire in glorification of the Boards of Guardians. I do not wish to disparage those Boards, but I must say that they are bodies who know very little indeed about the parishes, and of whom the parishes themselves know nothing at all. I can cite my own experience of Hampshire, in which I reside. I remember that when the Local Government Bill was under discussion I happened to be down in that county at Easter, and I thought I would go to the vestry meeting. I found there three farmers and a clergyman, and I was informed that the rate had been increased. I suggested that it might be well to inquire why the rate had been increased, and that proposition was received with acquiescence. I said, Would it not be better to look a little into the accounts? but they said, We have not any accounts; and I think they added that for eight or nine years no accounts had been published by the Board of Guardians in reference to the administration of the rate. That was my first introduction to the mode of administering relief by the Boards of Guardians. An hon. Member opposite has said, How is it possible that the Sanitary Authorities should go against the wishes of the parishes?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The hon. Member referred to the case of the Parish of Cottenham, the details of which I do not propose to go into. But I may state that letters were addressed to the Local Board on the subject of the refusal of the Local Authority to make allotments there, when the matter was discussed at some length. I have here a letter from the Chairman of the Sanitary Authority, who says that the whole matter was gone into, and the Sanitary Authority would do nothing in it. The Chairman also said he knew nothing about Cottonham. That is the statement made by the Chairman of a body which would have the management of allotments in the Parish of Cottenham. 58 Well, I think it would be wise to introduce provisions into this Bill which would have the effect of amending such a state of things! The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has said that this question would arise when we dealt with District Councils. For my part I cannot understand why he is not dealing with District Councils this year. As it is, the matter is to be postponed until we come to deal with that subject. I think that this discussion has shown how unfit the Sanitary Authorities or Boards of Guardians are to deal with matters of this description. The Instruction now before the House would confer further powers for acquiring and managing allotments. Well, is the House or are the Government opposed to that? Is the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley opposed to it? At any rate, the House ought distinctly to understand that the issue we are about to divide upon is whether or not larger powers for this purpose should be given by this Bill. Do not let there be any mistake about that. The Instruction does not compel anything; it merely enables the Committee to consider this matter, so that when we consider the Bill in Committee we may propose a new area of Local Government. If hon. Members approve of this Instruction let them vote for it. Do not let there be any hoodwinking in reference to this question. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has said that he would rather drop the Bill than introduce provisions which would be too heavy to be carried into the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that they desire to see larger powers given. Well, then, let them vote for this Instruction. If they do not desire to see larger powers given, let them vote against the instruction. Well, then, they say that the Government will drop the Bill. Why should they do so, when clauses can be introduced in Committee, and the Committee can decide whether they should be adopted or not. I would vote against clauses which I thought would destroy the Bill. I do not want to destroy, but to enlarge the Bill; and I do not want to enlarge it in a manner which would overweight it. I want to introduce into it such useful provisions as it could properly bear. I admit the weight of 59 the argument of the President of the Local Government Board. I do not think we could frame a new and complete system of Local Government in this Bill. But there are several things I should like to put into it; for instance, the power of hiring instead of buying land. It is unreasonable for the Government to say—"If you agree to that we will drop the Bill." Do you mean to confine the amendment of the Allotments Act within the four corners of this Bill or do you not? In my opinion, you act unwisely simply to confine your Bill to the establishment of an Appeal Court. If the Boards of Guardians have failed to act, the County Councils are not likely to act. In one or two cases you might get something done; but the proposal is not going to give a vitality to this legislation which it does not possess already. The constitution of the County Council is utterly inappropriate for this sort of work. How could the County Council deal with the acquirement of little bits of land for the purposes of allotments perhaps 50 miles away? It is not done by Boards of Guardians; it is geographically impossible. The County Council can no doubt deal effectually with main roads, county bridges, asylums, and police management; but to suppose that it could take charge of the management of allotments is entirely to misconceive the whole character of the business. What we really want to do is to give larger powers, and clauses might be proposed in order to see whether or not any of them could be adopted. The President of the Local Government Board has pleaded in favour of his own child. That is a very proper parental sentiment. The apology that he has made for that child is the old apology—"It is such a very little one." We want to feed up his little child into a promising bantling-. That is really the object of this Instruction. I can assure him that we have not the smallest disposition to destroy his child, but we would rather have seen twins. I hope the Government will not regard this Instruction as hostile to their Bill. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no desire to press clauses that might not reasonably be accepted. Why not take this opportunity? Why not open the door to useful amendment? If you 60 Say "No, we consider our Bill so perfect that we exclude from it everything else," we cannot accept that condition. We desire to enlarge and improve it, and it is upon that ground that we divide in support of the Motion.
§ *(6.25.) THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. LONG,) Wilts, Devizes
Sir, I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman through the course of his speech. He referred to the apology of my right hon. Friend as a very old one. I think we may say much the same of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It is a very old speech, and it consisted chiefly of offering the Government some advice which the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to offer us in a previous occasion. We much regret that we were unable to accept the right hon. Gentleman's advice then, and we are in much the same position now. I can well understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby would be very glad to induce the Government to accept his advice so as to embarrass their business, and he would be equally ready to turn round and abuse them for not properly conducting the affairs of the country. The right hon. Gentleman has attempted with all his wonted charms and seductions to win us over; but we will not fall into the trap laid for us, and we will manage our own affairs in our own way. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Seale-Hayne) waxed very eloquent over the vast expenditure that would be incurred in obtaining Provisional Orders for the purposes of allotments. The hon. Gentleman has ignored the provisions of the Allotments Act under which a Provisional Order is put in a Confirming Bill brought into this House and taken before the Committee upstairs. If the Bill is opposed, the Committee have the power, if they think that the expenditure caused by the opposition has been improperly brought about, to lay the costs upon the opponents. That power does not exist with regard to other Provisional Orders, and it is manifestly unfair to compare the case of a Provisional Order for the purposes of allotments with the Provisional Orders for other and wholly different purposes.
§ *MR. LONG
The hon. Member quoted cases, so far as I remember, from certain towns in reference to their improvements and other matters. I hope before very long we shall be able to tell the hon. Gentleman what is the actual cost of obtaining Provisional Orders for allotment purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey spoke of the necessity for lawyers and surveyors. I can assure the House that under the provisions of the Allotments Acts there is no need for the services of lawyers and surveyors, and it is quite possible for the land to be obtained at an agreed price, and then to obtain a Provisional Order at a very small price indeed. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) made a suggestion with reference to the price paid for land taken compulsorily, and said that by the working of the Sanitary Laws there had been great difficulty in securing the removal of unsanitary buildings owing to the cost. He suggested that the cost might well be reduced. That is all very well where an individual has allowed his property to become unsanitary; but where a man is not in such default, I do not think the House would say that he should be punished by having his land and property taken on just the same terms that ho would have received had he boon in default. The right hon. Gentleman told us the Bill was going to be a failure because it gives these powers to the County Council; but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is aware that County Councils have expressed a desire to have these powers and their readiness to use them. I am convinced that they will carry out the Bill. The issue is a very simple one: it is the carrying of an amending Bill, which will remove existing difficulties, or the consideration of proposals which it is impossible to carry out. The discussion has been very full and complete, and I hope we may now be allowed to get the Speaker out of the Chair and the Bill into Committee.
§ (6.30.) The House divided:—Ayes 210; Noes 249.—(Div. List, No. 67.)
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)62
§ Clause 1.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.