HC Deb 26 June 1925 vol 185 cc1948-59

I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

We have now come to something which is rather more likely to excite a little difference of opinion. Clause 8 deals with cases where land has been let by an owner for allotment gardens and where that owner has, under the terms of the tenancy, a right to re-enter on the land on account of its being required for building purposes, or roads, or other matters of that kind.


Is that voluntarily, or are there any compulsory powers?


I think it is all voluntarily, but I would rather not be taken as speaking finally on that point. The Act of 1922 provided that three months' notice of intended re-entry must be given, and under Section 11 it was provided that where land was let to a local authority or to an association, and it is not satisfied that the resumption of possession was required in good faith, the question as to whether or not it was required in good faith should be determined by arbitration. As was only to be expected, it has not been altogether easy for local authorities or associations to establish the want of good faith in cases to which the Section refers. I think one grievance of allotment holders is not that the notice has not been given in good faith, but that where notice has been given in good faith the land has not been, in fact, immediately used for building and the allotment holders have seen it idle after they have ceased to be allowed to occupy it. Most of the difficulty, however, arises from what those who considered this matter upstairs had, and indeed all of us have, constantly before our minds, and that is the clash between the housing interests and the allotment interests.

In order to facilitate building and to make as easy as possible housing de- velopment, it is essential that land to be used for this purpose should be offered with vacant possession. I imagine it is comparatively seldom that an owner himself builds on the land. He makes the roads and sewers, and then offers the land for sale to somebody who wishes to develop it—occasionally using small pieces to build for himself—and it is not his fault if purchasers who are prepared to build do not at once come along in sufficient numbers and begin building operations. A good deal of information has been supplied to me that, where one building area is under allotments and another building area is in hand (that is to say, where vacant possession can be offered), and both are advertised for sale for building, that building will always begin on the land which can be offered with vacant possession. That is an almost inevitable result. Therefore, hon. Members must have regard to the importance of vacant possession when they are trying to balance the claims of allotments and building. If we seek in the interests of the allotment movement to make the conditions too onerous for the development of houses, I think there is a real danger that we shall end by defeating the very object that we set out to serve. In that case we shall end by making it difficult for allotments to be established because those with land suitable for allotments will be very shy about letting it under these circumstances. Under the Bill it is proposed that three months' notice shall not be given unless a certificate is obtained from the local authority that the building plans have been approved, and, in the second place, a like certificate has been obtained that the building materials will be available and the work commenced as soon as the notice expires. There is a hiatus in the proposal, because it is by no means in all cases that the building plans have to be approved in this way. As a rule, the trouble and expense of preparing plans is very great and the approval of them often takes a considerable amount of time. For these reasons I cannot but think that we should be wise to delete this Clause, and it is in that sense that I advise the House. I have had the opportunity of discussing this Clause with representatives of the allotment holders, and I think they themselves would say that they were fully alive to the difficulties to which I have drawn attention. They would state their grievance, as they see it, under which they suffer, and I think they will also recognise our difficulties in this matter. I think they would also admit that neither they nor we have been successful up to the present in devising a solution which would stand criticism and challenge, and which would meet the two points of view I have set forth.

I have been able to meet the point of view of the allotment holders in one respect. It is a point upon which they laid considerable stress, and that is in regard to the period of 10 days. It was laid down in Sub-section (2) of Section 11 that the council may send a counter-notice demanding arbitration on the question of bona fides, and their contention was that this period was too short, and it was in relation to that that an Amendment was moved earlier in this Debate. That period has now been extended to 21 days, and I think that will meet the difficulty which the allotment holders feel in that respect. I am afraid that neither they nor I have succeeded in providing means of obviating the difficulties which have arisen in regard to this Clause which would tend to prevent housing development, and therefore, indirectly, it would delay the provision of allotments which we seek to increase. For these reasons I feel bound to move the deletion of this Clause.


I am sure the Minister of Agriculture will not expect us to allow this Clause to go without a struggle. In the first place, I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman means when he talks about the allotment holders wanting this thing and that. I understand that there is unanimity amongst allotment holders, and they all want Clause 8 as it stands.

We have received a considerable number of communications from interested persons. This Clause has arisen, in the first place, in this Bill because it was felt that the present law was inadequate to protect the allotment holders. What is the present position? It is that under the Act of 1922, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, the tenancy of the land is not to be made terminable unless it is required on account of the land being wanted for building purposes.

Those are the only words in the Act of 1922, that is "on account of the land being required for building." The land-owner at the present time has simply to state that the land is required for building and then he comes under this provision. I know that on many occasions landlords have served allotment holders with notices saying that the land was required for building. They have themselves afterwards re-occupied the land, and nothing has been done with the land for months, and building has not been proceeded with. It may be said that the landlord acted in good faith in giving the notice, and intended to build upon it, and subsequently found that he could not do so, but we say that it is necessary to protect the allotment holder against notices of intention to build when, in fact, no building results.


They have a right to arbitration


It was felt that Section 8 of the Act of 1922 was not sufficient and that deals with the right of arbitration and good faith. It is quite possible that the landlord may give notice in good faith that he intends to build, and he may see a building arising on the land in the same way that Sir Christopher Wren saw St. Paul's Cathedral long before it was placed on its present site. The landlord may intend to build but the allotment holder is concerned to see that if he gives up the land it is for some immediate need, and that building is going to take place upon it within a reasonable time. It is very annoying when an allotment holder has been turned out to see the land he occupied simply lying idle. I have received a letter from an allotment holder in the North of England who says he was served with a notice last April to give up possession under the Act of 1922 and up to date there has been no sign of any building, and that land which might have been growing crops has become a nursery for weeds.

I think the provision about giving notice should not apply to any land unless the landlord has first obtained from the local authority a certificate that the plans have been approved, and that the landlord has satisfied the local authority that building materials were available, and that the work would be proceeded with immediately on the termination of the notice. I could have understood the Minister of Agriculture saying that this Clause was too wide, and he might have asked us to cut it down a little bit. He is not, however, doing that, for the right hon. Gentleman is simply asking us to cut out the whole of this Clause, and he is substituting nothing in its place only Section 11 of the old Act. We do not want to be unreasonable. The right hon. Gentleman might have argued that this Clause went too far, and he might have made some proposal for altering it, but we insist upon having some protection for the allotment holder in regard to notices of this kind under which the land is required for building, and was really to be taken for that purpose. Then we would have discussed the matter, and it would have been capable of adjustment. If we had insisted on this Clause then, as I understand it, landlords who have in view the possibility of building will not let this class of land for allotments at all. That could all have been met by an adjustment and a compromise on this particular Clause. The Bill was introduced with this Clause, and it passed through Committee in its present form, and it is a very great tax on the desire of all of us to get this Bill through as a reasonable compromise to ask us to take away all the protection that the land will actually be used for building. I will summarise the matter in this way. We want to know, where a notice is served on the allotment holder, that the land is required for building, that within a reasonable period there will really be a building put upon it, and, until that satisfaction is given to us, we on this side of the House will oppose the withdrawal of this protection to the allotment holders, and will do everything that we can to see that the Clause stands or that some modified form takes its place.


I do not think that the Minister has made out a good case for the withdrawal of the Clause. There is another phase to the matter to which I would like to draw attention. It is rather unreasonable procedure on the part of any Government or Minister, when a Bill has been through Committee, and has been thrashed out in detail, that we should have two Clauses taken out altogether, and another Clause substituted for a third. I wonder what the promoters of the Bill think about it. They had these things put in when the Bill was originally drafted, and presumably they were in favour of them. These questions have been fought out in Committee, and now the Minister comes along and coolly proposes that two Clauses should be omitted altogether and that another should be substituted for a third Clause. I do not know what negotiations may have taken place, but it appears to me a rather curious and dangerous method of procedure if our Committee work is going to be treated in this manner.

I would like to ask the Minister whether he really thinks that the terms included in this Clause are honest. After all, have not the terms in the Clause been drafted on the evidence, the accumulated evidence, of what has occurred in past years, even when building materials were not so difficult to obtain as at present. We know from evidence that has accumulated that people have acquired land that has been in cultivation as allotments, and that it has remained derelict for years without any buildings being put upon it. With that evidence in our minds, is it too much to ask that the landowner should submit evidence, when he wants this land back, that he is really going to build upon it. Is it too much to ask at the present time, when the question of the supply of building materials is so serious, that he should submit this evidence that he really wants the land for this purpose, and that the allotment holders should be satisfied that the land that they are asked to give up is going to be used for a purpose which may prove to be better than the purpose for which it is now used. I submit that the right hon. Gentleman has not put any great evidence before the Committee to warrant us giving up this Clause. The Committee evidently thought that it was a good Clause and ought to go through, and I submit that the Minister of Agriculture ought to put more and better evidence before us before he can ask the House to give up the Clause.


I am in full agreement with the case of the Minister in moving that this Clause be deleted from the Bill. It is a thoroughly bad Clause, and it is one which in the long run will react upon the allotment holders. Already in the city of Leicester one company owning 20 acres of building land, which, at low rents, they kindly allowed allotment holders to use, have given notice to between 450 and 500 allotment holders that they must quit the allotments in view of the fact that Clause 8 is included in the Bill. The whole trouble about building land being used for allotments is a relic of war-time allotments. We shall shortly, if this Bill be passed, be out of our difficulties all together about acquiring land and keeping it for allotment purposes, and I suggest to those who are opposing the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman that they are really thrashing a dead horse. We shall not have many of these allotments that are rented in the near future. Corporation allotment committees are buying land and keeping it specially for allotments. That is the better way, both for the allotment holders and everybody else. This Bill gives power to allotment holders' associations to borrow money to purchase land, and there can be no fear of anybody coming along and saying that they want the land for building purposes. If you leave this Clause in, it will be a blot on the Bill, and in the long run will react on the allotment holders.


I think the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser), who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench in favour of the retention of this Clause, has allowed his mind to be absorbed with the case of existing allotment holders, and has not looked forward to the very much bigger question of the provision of allotments for the future. Of course, there have been bad cases—no one denies that—but I submit, in the interests of the allotment movement of the future, that what is really necessary is that it should be as easy as possible to obtain allotments on as convenient a site as is available; in other words, as near as possible to the edge of the town or village where the allotment holders live. There are a great many cases of growing towns and villages where it is far more convenient for present, and would be for future, allotment holders that they should have for a time allotments on land close to the buildings, which would gradually be shut out as the town or village expands, rather than that they should immediately be compelled to go beyond what I may call the building probabilities to look for their allotments. I am sure, if this Clause reaches the Statute Book in anything like its present form, that it would mean that no one owning land, whether a private person or an incorporated company, which would be likely within reasonable time to be required for building, would allow it temporarily to be used for allotments. The allotment movement would suffer. Therefore, I think that other means of remedying admitted evils which have cropped up in some cases should be sought, rather than a Clause of this kind. I think anyone who has had personal experience of building schemes will know that it would be extremely difficult, even with the best will in the world, to get the plane passed, to make the contracts for the provision of all building materials, and matters of that kind, before possession of the site could be obtained, before even notice could be given to obtain possession. To begin with, it is usually impossible in any scheme, even a small one, to get the detailed plans for buildings drawn until long after the general lay-out—roads, sewers and so on—has been dealt with, and I believe it would make many schemes quite impracticable if owners of land were frightened by a Clause of this kind applicable to allotment grounds. The people who would suffer would be the allotment holders of the future, and I believe it is really in their interests that this Clause should come out.


I have been rather astonished at the readiness with which most of those on this side of the House have accepted the excuses which have been constantly made against allotment holders having the right to continue their occupation, and the pleas which have constantly been made that owners should be allowed to eject allotment holders. We could all understand the arguments which have been put forward in favour of the deletion of this Clause if the existing allotment holders had on the Statute Book the right to call upon the local authority to provide equivalent accommodation if existing allotments had to be surrendered. So far, however, as I have been able to discover, there is nothing in this Bill that is going to make it obli- gatory upon local authorities to provide alternative land where the owners of land succeed in regaining possession. I should like to urge that the Minister should not only retain this Clause in the Bill, but should also provide the further facility of making it obligatory upon the public authority in all cases to offer to existing allotment holders equivalent accommodation if they are to be disturbed.

It has been argued by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), as well as by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, that, if this Clause remain in the Bill, the existence of the powers under it will be a detriment to the extension of the allotment system, on the ground that owners who may have in contemplation the use of their land for building purposes will not be willing voluntarily to offer their land if they be subject to the limitations of this Clause. That may be true, but, surely, it is the fact that more and more the question of providing allotments is becoming a public duty—a duty for public authorities—and that, more and more, people have the right, and, indeed, the country has the right, to expect that local authorities will use the powers which are conferred upon them, irrespectively of any free-will arrangements which may be come to by private owners, to provide the land which allotment holders require. The arguments which have been used in favour of the deletion of this Clause do not at all meet a definite existing grievance which obtains in every town in this country where land has been taken away from allotment holders on the ground that it is required for building purposes, and, as has been said, it has not been used. That state of things has gone on for two or three years, and allotment holders have not only had the grievance of being ejected from their holdings, but no other land is available for them. Surely, there is something to be said for allotment holders who have been dealt with in that way, and, even though it may be said that the owner of building land has a right to resume reasonable possession of his land provided that it is definitely required, surely there is something to be said for allotment holders who have put their labour into the land having the right to alternative accommodation if the land is taken away from them.


I want to say one or two words on what appears to me to be a very important point of principle which is raised by this discussion. As far as I have had experience of allotment holders and their grievances and fears, the fear of dispossession is one of their chief grievances, and the fear of dispossession is one of the things which retards the development of allotments most. The speeches we have heard against the retention of this Clause have been made with a view to facilitating, or rather, not preventing, building development, and everyone, of course, recognises that building development is a local and national need just as allotments are. I am perfectly sure that everyone on this side of the House will be only too glad to see both those needs fully catered for, and I would urge the promoters of the

Bill, and the Minister himself, if they insist on the deletion of this Clause, to see whether something cannot be put into the Bill which will provide an allotment holder who is ejected owing to some building scheme with the certainty, or, at any rate, tolerable certainty, that he will be accommodated on other land. I can from practical experience assure the right hon. Gentleman and those who are promoting the Bill—and, after all, the purpose of this Bill is the promotion of allotments— that one of the real grievances from which allotment holders suffer is the fact that they are dispossessed, often without really adequate reason and without any public service being served by their dispossession.

Question put, "That Clause 8 stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 66; Noes, 110.

Division No. 213.] AYES. [2.45 p.m.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hayes, John Henry Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs, Stretford)
Ammon, Charles George Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Scrymgeour, E.
Attlee, Clement Richard Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Baker, Walter Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Slesser, Sir Henry H.
Barnes, A. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Snell, Harry
Batey, Joseph Kelly, W. T. Stephen, Campbell
Broad, F. A. Kennedy, T. Taylor, R. A.
Bromley, J. Kenyon, Barnet Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Cluse, W. S. Lansbury, George Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Conway, Sir W. Martin Lowth, T. Thurtle, E.
Crawfurd, H. E. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon) Viant, S. P.
Dalton, Hugh MacLaren, Andrew Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Day, Colonel Harry March, S. Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Duncan, C. Montague, Frederick Westwood, J.
Dunnico, H. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Edwards, John H. (Accrington) Naylor, T. E. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Paling, W. Windsor, Walter
Gosling, Harry Ponsonby, Arthur Wright, W.
Groves, T. Potts, John S. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Riley, Ben TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Ritson, J. Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. T.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Cobb, Sir Cyril Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Glyn, Major R. G. C.
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Cope, Major William Greene, W. P. Crawford
Beamish, Captain T. P. H. Couper, J. B. Grotrian, H. Brent
Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.) Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.)
Berry, Sir George Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Gunston, Captain D. W.
Blundell, F. N. Davies, A. V. (Lancaster, Royton) Harland, A.
Boyd-Carpenter, Major A. Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Harrison, G. J. C.
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Dixey, A. C. Hawke, John Anthony
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Elliot, Captain Walter E. Henn, Sir Sydney H.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y) Elveden, Viscount Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard
Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D. Falle, Sir Bertram G. Hopkins, J. W. W.
Campbell, E. T. Falls, Sir Charles F. Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Fermoy, Lord Hume, Sir G. H.
Cazalet, Captain Victor A. Fielden, E. B. Hurd, Percy A.
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm. W.) Forrest, W. Jacob, A. E.
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Foster, Sir Harry S. Knox, Sir Alfred
Lamb, J. Q. Price, Major C. W. M. Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Lane-Fox, Lieut.-Col. George R. Ramsden, E. Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Looker, Herbert William Remnant, Sir James Waterhouse, Captain Charles
MacAndrew, Charles Glen Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus Sandeman, A. Stewart Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.
McLean, Major A. Savery, S. S. White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dairymple
Margesson, Captain D. Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y) Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Milne, J. S. Wardlaw- Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Sinclair, Col. T.(Queen's Univ., Belfst.) Wise, Sir Fredric
Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Slaney, Major P. Kenyon Womersley, W. J.
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.) Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Moore, Sir Newton J. Smith-Carington, Neville W. Wood, Rt. Hon. E. (York, W.R., Ripon)
Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C R. (Ayr) Smithers, Waldron Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Spender Clay, Colonel H. Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Nuttall, Ellis Sprot, Sir Alexander Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Oakley, T. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Pennefather, Sir John Sugden, Sir Wilfrid TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Tasker, Major R. Inigo Colonel Sir George Courthope and
Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South) Captain Bourne.