HC Deb 22 July 1919 vol 118 cc1181-92

(1) Any land which is, or forms part of, a Metropolitan common within the meaning of the Metropolitan Commons Act, 1866, or which is subject to regulation under an order or scheme made in pursuance of the Inclosure Acts, 1845 to 1899, or under any local Act or otherwise, or which is or forms part of any town or village green, or of any area dedicated or appropriated as a public park, garden, or pleasure ground, or for use for the purposes of public recreation, shall not be acquired by a council under the principal Act except under the authority of an order for compulsory purchase made under the principal Act, which so far as it relates to such land shall be provisional only, and shall not have effect unless it is confirmed by Parliament.

(2) The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, in giving or withholding their consent under this Act to the. appropriation by a council for the purpose of small holdings or allotments of any land to which the preceding Sub-section applies or which forms part of any common, shall have regard to the same considerations and shall, if necessary, hold the same inquiries as are directed by the Commons Act, 1876, to be taken into consideration and held by the Board before forming an opinion whether an application under the Inclosure Acts shall be acceded to or not.

(3) Where an order for compulsory purchase to which this Section applies or a consent by the Board to the appropriation of land provides for giving other land in exchange for the common or open space to be purchased or appropriated the order for compulsory purchase or an order made by the Board in relation to the consent for appropriation may vest the land given in ex-change in the persons in whom the common or open space purchased or appropriated was vested subject to the same rights, trusts, and incidents, as attached to the common or open space and discharges the land purchased or appropriated from all rights, trusts, and incidents, to which it was previously subject.—[Sir A. Boscawen.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, That the Clause be read a second time. The object of this Clause is to take precautions with regard to common land, commons, and open spaces which have been in any way dedicated to the public. The House may be aware that during the Committee stage we took pains to exempt from the drastic operation of Clause 1 all common land. Under this Clause, which goes a good deal further, we deal only with land that has in some way or another been dedicated to the public. It provides that no such land should be acquired for small holdings or allotments under this Bill except with the sanction of this House or, in other words, by means of a Provisional Order. An hon. Friend of mine (Sir Henry Cowan), who is, I believe, the mouthpiece of the Farmers' Federation, has put down certain Amendments to my new Clause which will carry the matter further still. He proposes that no part of any land that has been dedicated to the public shall be either acquired or appropriated in any way for the purposes of this Bill. I am quite willing to meet him, and, if he moves his Amendments, I shall be willing to accept them, because we do not wish in any way to interfere with the quit rights of the public as regards open spaces and commons that have been dedicated to them. Although we are most anxious to acquire and appropriate all suitable land for the purposes of this Bill, we realise that there are certain lands which should not be so used, and open spaces and commons fall under that head.


I want to say one word on behalf of the allotment-holders of the country with regard to the decision which my hon. Friend has just announced. I very much regret that he has not seen his way to move his Clause and leave it as it stands, because his acceptance of the Amendments of my hon. Friend simply means that there will be no possibility of any allotments being upon any of the commons of the country. I know that that raises an important question of principle, but in very many cases the allotments in these commons do no harm, and, in fact, do a great amount of good. They occupy very little space, often on the fringe of the common, and I suggest to my hon. Friend that ho should continue to give that encouragement to allotment-holders that ho has always given since he has been in office, by permitting them to occupy such commons with the con sent of this House. The occupation of commons by allotment-holders is serving a very useful purpose. They have, undoubtedly, done a great deal for the country, and the necessity for allotments to day is almost as great as it was two or three years ago. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will reconsider the matter, and will allow the allotment-holders of the country to occupy such portions of the commons as will not greatly interfere with the public; use of them, especially seeing that, according to his own Clause, they will have to come to the House and obtain sanction. The allotment-holders of the country are very greatly perturbed as to their position. There are some 2,000,000 of them, and all over the country notices to quit have been given. This Clause, with the Amendments, will simply mean that a very large number of them will be dispossessed.

Brigadier-General COLVIN

I should like to support what has been said by the last speaker. I have in mind two very large commons—Epping Forest and Wan-stead Flats—portions of which have been used during the last few years for allotments. The allotment-holders, numbering many hundreds, are in danger of being evicted. Of course, they quite understood, when they took these allotments, that they were liable to be turned out at the termination of the War, because they did not get the two-years' grace. Many of them came forward in the first instance for patriotic reasons, but they have acquired a taste for cultivation, and they ought to be encouraged in every possible way. It would be very bad policy to turn them out. These places—Epping Forest and Wanstead Flats—are practically the only available places, and they are very large. A great deal was poor, marshy, boggy land, of no use at all. It is now very productive—a great deal of money, as well as labour having been spent upon it. I do not for a moment suggest that playgrounds or places of recreation should be interfered with, but there are an enormous number of open spaces, odd corners of which have been cultivated as allotments, and those allotments, I think, ought to remain permanently. Those who came forward on patriotic grounds and who cultivated the land should be given security of tenure as a reward, and should be allowed to retain the land. Many hon. Members will agree that in the past the best use has not been made of the commons generally. One common of about 400 acres, near London, for instance, has been allowed to go back and back until now it is nothing but a mass of ant-hills, whereas, if it had been properly looked after, it would be very productive. Other commons, especially in the East, have been so neglected that they grow nothing but gorse. In places like these every encouragemnt should be given to people to make them more productive. The allotment movement is one of the best that has ever been started in this country. It ought to be taken seriously, and we ought to do all that we can to get more and more allotment-holders.


May I explain that the whole of this new Clause is limited to commons and open spaces that have been specifically dedicated to the public? It does not refer to all commons. Secondly, the introduction of the Clause and of the words which my hon. Friend wishes to move will not mean any interference with the position of existing allotment-holders. They will come under Clause 24, and will be permitted to remain for a certain period, as was always under stood. Therefore, the objections which have been raised and which would, I submit, come more properly on the specific Amendment, are really rather illusory.


I have been very much pulled in two directions with regard to this matter. I happen to be a member both of the Executive Committee of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society and of the Allotments Committee of the Agricultural Organisation Society, and, therefore, I shall be abused heartily, whichever line I take. As a matter of fact, it seems to be that the rights of the people interested in commons and open spaces ought to come in this particular Clause, limited as it is. The biggest point that I see is that if the House allows local authorities—even subject to the approval of Parliament—to appropriate something which has been dedicated as an open space, we shall have other persons doing the same thing later on. It may be—and, in deed, it is the fact—that a great deal of common land is not properly used. On the other hand, we anticipate that towns will spread, and that land which has once-been dedicated may, later on—it may be 200, 300, or 400 years hence—prove of the utmost value to the locality if retained absolutely as open spaces for the use of the public or as common land. I think we ought in these matters to take a long view, and although I have great sympathy with the allotment-holders, I do hold that land which has been definitely dedicated to the public should be retained for public use, and should not be, so to speak, undedicated.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause accordingly read a second time


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1) after the word "recreation" ["for the purposes of public recreation"], to insert the words shall not be appropriated under this Act by a council for small holdings or allotments and. In view of the very sympathetic reception which the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated he is willing to give to my Amendment, I feel I ought not to detain the House by speaking at any great length; but, inasmuch as the merits of the proposal are very considerable, and will certainly bear investigation, and in view of a certain amount of opposition which has developed on these benches, I think I ought to explain briefly the purport of the Amendment, to say on whose behalf I am moving it, and to give the general reasons which animate those be hind it. The object of the Amendment is to ensure that commons, public parks or pleasure grounds, recreation grounds and playing fields shall not be permanently alienated or appropriated for the purposes of small holdings or allotments. All the Amendments which I have to move are supported by organisations of which I will presently give a list, and it will be recognised that they constitute a very large and formidable body of public and expert opinion, and, therefore, deserve to carry a great deal of weight. The societies in question are: The Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society, the Federation of Rambling Clubs, the Kyrle Society, the London Club Cricket Conference, the Metropolitan Public. Gardens Association, the London Playing Fields Society, London Society, the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty, the Society for the Promotion of National Reserves, and the Conference of the National Associations Governing Sport. These societies, as I have said, not only represent a great body of public opinion, amongst whom they claim to be experts, but they also represent popular opinion, because they have behind them no fewer than 2,000,000 members of cricket and football clubs and other athletic societies. These societies protest against any curtailment of existing public rights in these open spaces, commons, playing fields, and public parks, and the reasons why we have felt it necessary to suggest the Amendments are to be found in the very wide powers which the Bill, as drafted, confers upon local authorities, enabling them to appropriate open spaces vested in them, for allotments and other purposes which were never contemplated by those who conveyed to them the land in question for specific public purposes.

4.0 P.M.

Under the Clause, as drafted, these public bodies can override every covenant and every condition contained in any trust deed or in any deed of gift or conveyance. I submit that this is contrary to public policy, and to the consistent policy of Parliament during a period of not less than fifty years. Since the date, at any rate, of the Commons Act,1876, Parliament has consistently maintained that open spaces, once dedicated to the public, should be religiously preserved for the purposes for which they were given. There has been no variation of that. Parliament has never gone back on that position or weakened in the slightest degree in its adherence to it. I would like to give the House one or two modern instances to show that this practice of fifty years ago has continued down to the present date. In the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909 a provision was inserted requiring the consent of Parliament to any acquisition of open spaces or dedicated common land for the purposes of that Act. In the Small Holdings and Allotments Act of 1908 a new step was taken, and a new precedent created, for it was provided that new common land could be created for the benefit of the cultivators of those small holdings and allotments. In the Forestry Bills now before Parliament there are similar safeguards, while in the Development Act, one of the most important of recent Acts of Parliament—a far-reaching measure, containing, among other things, provisions for afforestation—there are also safeguards for the protection of common land. We do not rely merely upon the practice of Parliament. We rely also on pledges given by the President of the Board of Agriculture. I have in my hand a copy of a statement made by Lord Ernie as recently as April last, in reply to a deputation which waited on him on this subject, and these are his words: It has been clearly indicated that where allotments have been laid out on parks or commons, as for instance on London parks, they must be given up. We hold that the health and recreation of the large body of people who use public land is of interest over the few who have cultivated the allotments. You may take it that the Board will work on those lines. That was a very definite pledge, and I need not say I recognise how fully the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board is prepared to act. upon it. Lord Ernle's statement was emphasised, or, rather, a similar statement was made in equally effective terms by the Prime Minister on the 4th April, 1918, in reply to a memorial from Members of this House, when he said: The Board of Agriculture has in cases where land was difficult to obtain sanctioned the temporary use of common land, parks and open spaces, on the stipulation that the land should be restored to its original use after the conclusion of the War. And the Prime Minister added: The Board intends to enforce that stipulation. During the War, under the benign influence of D.O.R.A., very numerous allotments were laid out on common lands and open spaces. National necessity overruled every other consideration. I shall be the first to admit that permission was properly given, and that the allotment-holders who contributed to the production of food at a time of national crisis deserve the best thanks of the country. But that cruel necessity has passed, and the comparatively small amount of food produced on these allotments—I refer only to the allotments on open spaces—is not vitally essential now for our food supply. The Order issued under D.O.R.A. empowering the making of allotments on open spaces and common lands provided that they might continue for twelve months after the War. Public opinion in many localities is pro testing now against their continuance even temporarily. That is a consideration that may be taken into account in an argument against any permanent alienation of such lands for such purposes. Certainly the Board of Agriculture is under an implied obligation to these persons at any rate to allow them to occupy them for the period of the guarantee. The London County Council, so far as the public parks and open spaces in which it is interested are concerned, takes the view that this condition should be complied with, but should not be stretched more than a very little beyond the promised point. The London County Council has already decided that the cultivation of open spaces urgently required for games and purposes of recreation must cease in January, 1920, and in other cases in January, 1921. Local authorities, however, are subject to pres sure from various quarters, especially round about elections, and they require protection. If it were only for that reason we should object and object strongly, as we do, to the inclusion in this Bill of any provision which would seem to make it possible for anybody to hope that common lands may be made available permanently for allotments. There is a dearth of public open spaces. Taking the whole of London, there is only one acre of open space to every 670 of the inhabitants; but if we take a congested district, such as Southwark, there is only one acre of open space to 14,449 persons. Nobody would suggest that is reasonable We have all seen and been shocked to see children playing in the streets, very often to the danger of their lives, especially in these days of motor traffic. A Ministry of Health has been set up. That shows a growing concern on the part of the State for the health and physical well-being of the people. It would be a retrograde step, at the beginning of this new era of national reconstruction, to deprive the people of their parks and to turn to the uses of a small minority lands which have been dedicated to the people as a whole


I beg to second the Amendment.

I feel very strongly that in this case; the right of the public must come first. Just see the effect if these words are not put in the Clause Take the ordinary local body which has to find allotments. If it has the power to put allotment holders upon common land, there is a very great temptation to do it, because it may save land which it would rather keep in its own hands. If the local body does that, it is bad for the locality, which loses an open space, and it is also bad for the allotment holder himself, because he is often put on very bad land. The question is wider, even, than that. If it is right to allow the allotment holder to remain permanently on common land, ail the Enclosure Acts were right. In a small way, this is repeating the mistake made in the last century. Once you get any common land put to the purposes of allotments, you will never establish public rights again. The great want is places to which all the world can go for pleasure and recreation. It is a serious want. There is a great deal too much enclosed land in this country. We want places where the public can walk and amuse themeslves. That want will increase as manufactures and population increase. I am extremely glad the Parliamentary Secretary is accepting this Amendment. I should regard it as a very retrograde step if he allowed land which has been dedicated to the public to revert to private occupation. I hope the House will support the Government.

Brigadier-General COLVIN

I am sorry I do not agree with this Amendment. I must put forward, on be-half of allotment holders, a protest, although I should be the last person to interfere with any games, or sports, or pastimes, or recreation. I submit that allotments are a recreation and that a plot of land will occupy a great many more people than it would occupy if games of cricket or football were played on the land. It is not everybody who can play games. As we grow older most if us dig and enjoy the cultivation of land. That ought to be taken into consideration. When the Enclosure Acts were passed, allotments were not considered. Now they ought to have every consideration. I trust that opportunities for using only a certain percentage of common land for the purposes of allotments will be given.


I desire to support most cordially the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Sir II. Cowan). He was speaking on be-half of societies representing 2,000,000 people, but there are 10,000,000 or 15,000,000 little ones—the boys and girls—for whom the streets are the only places of recreation. If schools are necessary, so are recreation-grounds for those who use them. Recreation grounds are as necessary to the well-being of the subjects of the State as are the schools and institutions to their mental welfare. It is no use trying to educate mentally those who are starving physically. If the two do not work side by side, one or the other must come to the ground. Let us look at the matter quite calmly. There are other things than bricks and mortar and other things than vegetables that make up the welfare of the individual who becomes a member of the State. Now the period of the War is over, when the young ones especially are seeking some diversion for their physical energy, never was there a more clamant outcry for exercises in the right channels than at the present time. The call on every side is for recreation grounds. There is a vegetation which appeals to the allotment holder. There is another vegetation, the fungus and moss of the slums, which clouds the intellect and which we should remove. I heartily support the Amendment.


As I have already indicated in speaking on the Second Reading of the Clause the Government are prepared to accept this Amendment. I should like to make our position perfectly clear, although indeed it has been made clear by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland). We are in no way the enemies of allotments; far from it. I should say there is no more enthusiastic supporter of allotments in the House than I am myself. After all, it is a question of how this land can best be used. When it comes to a decision whether this land—not all common land, but land that has been specifically dedicated to public purposes for the use of the public generally, for the recreation of the children, for games and sports, for lungs and breathing spaces in large towns, and so forth—is to be preserved as common land for the purposes to which it is dedicated and, there fore, for the benefit of all, or whether it is to be used for allotments, excellent as they are, for comparatively speaking a few people, we must make up our minds that the purposes of common land and open spaces must prevail. As I said before, this does not apply to all common lands, but only to such common land as has been specifically dedicated to the public as an open space. The carrying of this Amendment will not interfere with the rights of those people who, for example, in the London parks, have been cultivating allotments up to the present time and who have been promised a further term. This only deals with appropriation in future. These people are already using this land for the purpose, and we shall deal with them under Clause 24, fixing a term after which they will have to relinquish their holdings. Therefore, so far as existing allotment-holders go, their case is in no way pre judiced by the carrying of this Amendment. On the main question my hon. Friends have proved their point, and the Government, therefore, feel bound to accept the Amendment.


I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for the assurance he has given. I should like to make one or two observations on what has been said by my hon. Friends behind me, one of whom stated that the necessity for these allotments has passed. I totally dissent from that view. I am sure that my hon. Friend would be one of the first to say that the necessity for allotments is as great to-day as it was two years ago.


My hon. Friend misunderstood me. What I said was, that it was not so acute as to require allotments on open spaces.


The suggestion made by the allotment-holders is in no sense a suggestion directed against boys and girls playing upon commons. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has been on any of these commons lately, but I venture to tell him that there is plenty of space for allotment-holders and for boys and girls. I know commons where cricket pitches are permanently roped off. There is very little difference between permanently roping off a cricket pitch and appropriating it for the use of eleven or more players, and permanently appropriating it to allotments which attract hundreds of people. While I am bound to submit to what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I want to show the House that there is another side of the matter. There is not that vision which some of my hon. Friends see of these commons being thronged with thousands of people so that there is no room left for an allotment-holder. As a matter of fact, unfortunately, most of these commons are very little used. The allotments which are there are just on the fringes. While I am bound to submit to the judgment of the House, I still entertain the opinion that the allotment-holders on the fringes of these commons are doing useful work that ought to be encouraged, and that they are not in any way interfering with the public use to which these commons have been dedicated.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

After the word "council" ["shall not be acquired by a council"], insert the words or by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. In Sub-section (2), leave out the words to which the preceding Sub-section applies or. After the word "common" ["or which forms part of any common"], insert the words and in the exercise by the Board of their powers of acquiring land under this Act. Leave out the words if necessary" ["and shall if necessary hold the same inquiries"— [Sir H. Cowan.] In Sub-section (3), leave out the word discharges" ["and discharges the land purchased or appropriated".] and insert instead thereof the word discharge." —[Sir A. Boscawen.] At the end, add (4) Nothing in the principal Act shall be deemed to authorise the acquisition of any land which forms part of the trust property to which the National Trust Act, 1917, applies.''—[Sir H. Cowan.]

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.