HC Deb 28 July 1922 vol 157 cc865-76

(1) Where land is let on a tenancy for use by the tenant as an allotment garden or is let to any local authority or association for the purpose of being sub-let for such use the tenancy of the land or any part shall not (except as hereinafter provided) be terminable by the landlord by notice to quit or reentry, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, except by— (c) re-entry under a power in that behalf contained in or affecting the contract of tenancy in the case of land let by a corporation or company being the owners or lessees of a railway, dock, canal, water, or other public undertaking on account of the land being required by the corporation, or company, for any purpose (not being the use of the land for agriculture) for which it was acquired or held by the corporation, or company or has beer appropriated under any statutory provision, or in the case of land let by a local authority (being land which was acquired by the local authority before the passing of this Act under the Housing Acts, 1890 to 1921) on account of the land being required by the local authority for the purposes of those Acts; or


I beg to move in Sub-section (1, c), after the word "agriculture" ["not being the use of the land for agriculture"], to insert the words "or sport."

This Clause refers to the power of re-entry on land used for allotment purposes by industrial companies, and the words I suggest would seem to be consequential on the Amendment which we carried in Committee upstairs, and which will be found embodied in Clause 21. We there say that the expression "industrial purposes" shall not include use for agriculture and we added the words "or sport." It seems to me therefore only natural that when we are dealing with these public undertakings of an industrial character we should make it clear also that they may resume their land for any of the public purposes with which they are concerned, but that there should be the slight restriction we have already insisted upon. I really think this is practically consequential on our definition of "industrial purposes," and I move the Amendment accordingly.


I hope my right hon. Friend will not press the Amendment. If he looks at an Amendment which I have further down to this Clause, he will see that the power of re-entry is limited even where there is actual emergency and a company can enter after having given three months' notice to the tenant, or if there is the provision in the contract which enables such re-entry. It is quite inconceivable that a company requiring land would put in the contract words enabling them to resume possession for sporting purposes. Certainly the limitations I have imposed with regard to re-entry are sufficient as they stand.


I think my right hon. Friend has to a large extent met the case, and I therefore will not press my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, c), to leave out the word "or" ["or in the case of land let by a local authority"], and to insert instead thereof the words but so that, except in a case of emergency, three months' notice in writing of the intended re-entry shall be given to the tenant; or (d) re-entry under a power in that behalf contained in or affecting the contract of tenancy. This is a rather important Amendment, which I undertook to consider when the matter was discussed in the Standing Committee. As the Clause now stands, a statutory company, such as a railway company, can enter land at once, without any notice at all, if they require the land for the statutory purposes for which they acquired it in the first instance. It was suggested that that was giving them a power which went altogether too far. The case put forward for it was that an emergency might happen. A railway company might have let land for allotments on the side of an embankment, a landslip might occur, it might be necessary to resume possession at once in order to carry on the necessary service to the public, and, therefore, anything of the nature of six months' or three months' notice is obviously impossible. I think there is a great deal in that, but I do not think that we ought for that reason to give them a general power to resume in any circumstances which are not of the nature of an emergency. Therefore, I propose to limit this part of the Clause which deals with these statutory companies, so that they only have the power of immediate resumption in cases of emergency. I think that that meets the point which was put before me and pressed very strongly in Committee, and I suggest that it is probably the best way of meeting the situation and at the same time making it quite clear that allotments, important as they are, shall not interfere with the actual carrying on of a public service.


The question I have to put is, "That the word 'or' stand part of the Bill." The hon. and gallant Member for Durham (Major Hills) has handed in an Amendment to be proposed when the word "or" has been left out. I think his opportunity will be on the question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."


May. I speak in opposition to this Amendment? I hope the House will pause before it passes a far-reaching Amendment of this sort, of which, I must say, the Minister has not given a full description. I must, at the risk of wearying the House, just explain the position in which all public utility companies are under the Bill, and where they will stand if this Amendment is passed. All these companies—dock companies, water companies, lighting companies or railway companies—are allowed to hold land for the purposes of their business. They are not allowed to hold more land than they reasonably want, but they are allowed to hold land in advance of their requirements, so that they have not got to buy hastily and he compelled to pay an extravagant price. They, therefore, may hold certain lands which are necessary for their undertaking, hut which will not be immediately required. Those lands have for a long time past been let as allotments. In fact, I think I can claim for the railway companies that they were the pioneers of the allotment movement. They have never refused to let the land. The land has been let, and the tenants have cultivated it for years past, and they have only been turned out when the land was required for its statutory purpose of the development of the line.

Paragraph (c) enables these companies to re-enter their land if it is required by the corporation or company for any purpose for which it was acquired or held. That means that they can take back their land at any time when they want it for the business of the company. As far as that goes, the Minister accepts it, but he limits this power of re-entry to a case of emergency. I have looked up the word "emergency" in the dictionaries, but have not got much light on its legal definition. I take it, however, that an emergency imports some crisis, some serious state of affairs as a result of which, if it were not put right, something unpleasant would occur. For instance, the example which the Minister gave is clearly an example of an emergency. It is an emergency where an embankment is falling down, and where, unless you go in and repair it, the next train may be derailed. That is an emergency, and for that purpose, under the Minister's Amendment, the company would have power to re-enter. There are, however, a great many cases in which business reasons and reasons of public policy would compel a company to re-enter upon land let for allotments, but which could not be described as cases of emergency. I will give two examples of that. Suppose that a railway company is making an extension. All the plans have been settled for some time beforehand, and the extension is started. Then suppose that, half-way through the extension, the engineer of the line finds that he has calculated his land requirements too narrowly, and that if a small three-cornered field could he included in a station or a siding, it would improve the extension. I do not think that that is an emergency. Nothing very dreadful would happen if it were not included, but it would be a very serious business drawback, and might make the extension less valuable than it would have been. I think that in such a case the Courts would say that, although it was urgent, it was not an emergency.

As my second instance I will quote one which actually happened. A dock company received a call from American oil importers, who said to the dock company that, if they would put up tank storage, oil that was then ready for shipment in the States would be sent to them in preference to another port, but that, unless the tank storage could be put up at once, the order would go to some different docks. The oil company had all the plates and other material ready for putting up this tank storage, and they said they must get possession of the land at once in order to start the work. In that case I think they wanted possession in a week, and the work was actually started within that time. You could not call that an emergency. Nothing very terrible would have happened, but the business would have gone elsewhere, and it would have been a very bad thing for that town if, for the sake of one or two allotments, all hat trade had gone to some different port. I submit, therefore, that the word "emergency" is too narrow a word.

Then I have a further objection. As soon as a word of this sort is inserted, the question of the legal interpretation is brought in. Suppose that the word is "emergency" or "urgency," and suppose that the engineer of the line wants an allotment back for an extension and goes in and takes possession, or tries to take possession. The holder may say, "No, I do not admit that this is an emergency or urgency. You are a trespasser; get out! I mean to fight the case in the Courts," and he can do so if he wishes. He is there. You have to get him out by ejectment, and he can fight and take it from Court to Court. I do not think the House wants public enterprises to be held up in this way. I have always been a strong supporter of the allotment movement, and railway companies were the friends of allotment holders long before some of their political friends existed. There was a time when almost the only allotments you saw were the little bits alongside the line and on top of the embankments. All this new extension of the allotment, movement was started by the railway companies. But their primary business is not to provide allotments. They have a great public service to perform and I hope the House will not hamper them, because it would he a grave disaster to them and it would not help the allotment holders. Look at the position. I suppose the engineers of our lines are about the most able business men in the whole kingdom. They look ahead and see which of the lands of the company Neill be required for new developments. They know them and want to get possession of them almost at once. If they have to calculate on three months before they can get possession, are they not bound to say to the company surveyor, "I think you must give notice here and there; I may want that land"? I do not think it is a good thing for anyone. It is not a good thing for the company and it is not a good thing for the allotment holder, and yet if you pass some Clause of this sort you will put the company in that position. I am going to move to leave out "in a case of emergency," and to insert "where the case is, in the opinion of the corporation or company, a case of urgency." I have tried to meet the Minister as far as I can, and I think the House will agree that I have gone a long way. All these statutory companies have been allowed to hold their land for the purpose of their business, and they have been excluded from all the numerous Acts which involve the acquisition of land and I think that is a very fair compromise. It limits the power of re-entry to a case of urgency—that means ordinary business urgency—and I submit that that is as far as great corporations should be asked to go.

Question, "That the word 'or' stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.

Question proposed, "That the words 'but so that, except in a case of emergency, three months' notice in writing of the intended re-entry shall be given to the tenant; or '(d) re-entry under a power in that behalf contained in or affecting the contract of tenancy—' be there inserted in the Bill."


I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment., to leave out the words "in a case of emergency" and to insert instead thereof the words "where the case is, in the opinion of the corporation or company, a case of urgency."

Major GLYN

I beg to second the Amendment.


I hope the House will not accept my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion. He complained that the Minister did not tell the complete story in relation to this matter, and I think a similar complaint can be made in reference to him. When the Bill was first introduced into another place, there was no distinction whatever between land owned privately and land held by a railway or dock company. The friends of the railway and dock companies came in mass formation in the other place and the Minister there was compelled to say that he did not see his way successfully to resist a very important distinction so far as allotment holders were concerned, namely, that if land is privately owned three or six months' notice, as the case may be, has to be given, but if it happens to belong to a railway or dock company, no such notice has to be given—as Lord Salisbury said, a very objectionable alteration in principle altogether. My hon. and gallant Friend has put forward two cases, one where there is going to be an extension of a railway company. Later on he said what far-sighted engineers there were in connection with railway companies. A far-sighted engineer would be able to give three months to the allotment holders and give them adequate time to get rid of their allotments. He then referred to the case of some American oil company who wanted to get hold of some land, and if they got it quickly they could enter into a contract immediately if the allotment holders were removed. If a firm is going to get a big order of this kind, does my hon. and gallant Friend think for a moment that the allotment holders would prove unreasonable? I do not think the dozen or twenty allotment holders would withstand the offer my hon. and gallant Friend might be able to make to them. Now he suggests that it is the company itself which is to determine when an emergency arises. I do not think he can be putting that forward seriously. A railway or dock company ought to be put in exactly the same position—I take the view of Lord Salisbury—as an owner of private land. As a master of fact, these well-advised dock and railway companies can far better look ahead than the owner of private land. For all these reasons I hope the House will support the Minister who, I think, has met the case the railway companies have put forward by saying that in a case of an emergency the land must be immediately given up. I think my hon. and gallant. Friend has got all that he can reasonably require.


I am very anxious that this matter should be made perfectly plain. I do not want to do any injustice to railway or other companies. Certainly I do not want to interfere with any public service. The point is simply this. I cannot see why public companies should have the right to dispossess allotment holders without notice, when no one else has, unless an emergency arises, in which case it is necessary to remove the allotment holders in order to carry on the service. In that case, I agree, in the public interest there must be a power of immediate resumption. When the matter came before as before it was argued almost entirely on a case of emergency—a landslip, an embankment tumbling down and the necessity of repairing it at once. The allotment holders could not stand in the way in such a case as that, and the allotment must terminate at once, with compensation. Other cases put forward do not meet the point. My hon. Friend in Committee put forward the case of the necessity for doing work on a railway siding for such a thing as a Royal show. That is a case in regard to which notice would be given months before or perhaps years before, and there is no reason why a railway company should not have acted like anybody else and have given either six months' notice, without compensation, or three months' notice with compensation.


I do not want to interrupt, but I want to clear up what is a misunderstanding. I gave that case as an example of what might occur if you went to the Courts. I said that it was not simply a case of three or five months that you might be held up, but that when an action at law was started a wrong-headed allotment holder might hold you up for a year or more. Anyone who has had experience of the law will know that.


Then we come back to the Amendment of this Clause. The Clause, if it is amended as I suggest, win provide that in cases of emergency the railway company may resume at once, on paying compensation. That is not a case of any allotment holder being able to hold up the company for a year or even for a day or for an hour. All that would happen would be that the company would say, "This is an emergency" for such a thing as a railway accident or the fall of an embankment, and they could enter upon the allotment and proceed to do their work. It is true that the allotment holder afterwards might go to the court to get an injunction against them.


indicated dissent.


That is the intention of the Amendment, and I am advised that that would be the effect. Therefore I suggest that I have provided for any emergency that may arise. In other respects a railway company or a dock company, or whatever company it might be, should be in the same position as a private owner. If the private owner wants the land urgently he has to come under the provisions of this Bill. If he wants it for building he can give three months' notice and pay compensation. Where is the hardship on the railway company doing that? If a private owner does not want his land urgently he can give six months' notice without compensation. I cannot accept the word "urgency." I cannot conceive what the word urgency means that is not covered by the word "emergency." If the urgency is due to an emergency it is covered; if it is not due to an emergency then the company ought to have exercised reasonable foresight and have given the proper notice. The proposal I have made meets the case; it is a fair proposal, and I hope the House will adopt it.

1.0 P.M.


I oppose the Amendment to the Amendment, and I hope that the hon. Member for Durham will withdraw his Amendment. We are anxious to get this Bill through as speedily as possible, and the hon. Member can hardly hope to get greater concessions than he has already obtained. He has fought the battle of the companies very strongly, and the Committee gave very considerable latitude to him. I think we have gone far enough. The railway companies cannot be regarded as sacrosanct, and as something entirely different from any other section of the community. I know quite well from my own experience how railway companies in some instances have acted when they have the power to stop public works and other matters, and I am very much opposed to giving them any greater powers. As to the fears that the hon. Members expressed with regard to emergency with regard to the falling of an embankment, I cannot conceive an embankment falling down or even slipping where allotments are concerned. So far as any other slips are concerned, I do not think the average allotment holder will be affected in the slightest degree. I give credit to the railway companies for having been very good in regard to allotments, but I ask the hon. Member not to place the allotment holders on the railways in a worse position than they are at present, and not to make them more subservient to the companies than the other allotment holders are to the ordinary owner.


I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to include not only statutory companies but other companies, such as shipbuilding companies or dock companies and dry dock companies. Suppose I am the owner of a shipbuilding yard, with a berth 400 ft. long, and I get an offer of a ship 500 ft. long, and I desire to extend my works and to extend the yard. That is a serious position. The shipbuilding company may lose the orders unless they can extend quickly. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to include other companies as well as the statutory companies. I have mentioned a concrete case that is likely to happen in the future owing to the extension of the length of ships. Many shipbuilders are hampered owing to the length of their berths and are refusing orders which they would have got if they had had quick means of extending their berths.


I hold no brief for the railway companies, but I feel that I must support my hon. Friend's Amendment. At least his Amendment deserves to be answered on the grounds on which it is put forward, and neither the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Sir K. Wood) nor the Minister has attempted to answer the point. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West, appeals to the authority of Lord Salisbury, and another hon. Member asked why the statutory companies should be put in a different category from private individuals. The hon. Member for Newcastle, Central (Sir G. Renwick), also raises that point. They are in a different position, because they are not allowed to hold land except for certain purposes. Under the law they are only allowed to hold land for certain purposes, and you are here telling them that for the purpose for which they hold the land they must not resume possession. It is said that injunctions can be applied for, but what is the good of applying for an injunction after the thing has happened? An injunction is to restrain an action before it has happened.


You can get a mandatory injunction.


It is also said that they can always buy out the allotment holder. That is an extraordinary argument. Is it really a sufficient argument against diminishing property rights to say, "It is true they are diminishing your rights, but you can always buy them out"?

Amendment to proposed Amendment negatived.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.

Further Amendment made: In Subsection (1, c), after the word "Acts" ["for the purposes of those Acts"] insert the words and, in the case of other land let by a local authority, after three months' previous notice in writing to the tenant on account of the land being required by the local authority for a purpose (not being the use of land for agriculture) for which it was acquired by the local authority, or has been appropriated under any statutory provision."—[Sir A. Boscawen.]