§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Captain BOURNE
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I wish to preface my remarks by saying that I am well aware that this Bill does not go as far in some directions as might be wished. The question of allotments has always been a very difficult one as between the interest of those who occupy the allotment and the interest of the urban population. At any rate it is very hard to hold the balance in this House between the two interests. In drafting this Bill great care has been taken not to impose any obligatory duty on urban authorities. We have tried to give them extended powers, but these powers are to be used or not used as they think fit. The main desire of allotment occupiers is security of tenure. It is not easy to give that security without interfering with other members of the population, but I believe that the only form of security which is going to be of any use is to enable the local authority to acquire the freehold of the land which is to be used as allotments, and one of the objects of the Bill is to facilitate the acquisition of freehold.
The question of allotments will always I feel sure be associated with the name of Mr. Jesse Collinses, who was the originator of the allotments movement. In some respects that movement has had a singular place in Parliamentary history, for it has had the blessing of all parties in this House. The first Act, the Act of 188V, was the work of my own party. The next important Act, that of 1908, was the work of the Liberal party, and the last two Acts dealing with the question, the Land Facilities Act, 1918, and the Allotments Act, 1922, were both the work of the Coalition Government. Hon. Members opposite, during their brief and somewhat precarious tenure of these benches, were not able to bring in a Bill dealing with this question, but I know that it is a matter which affects many of their supporters quite as keenly as any others, and I feel sure that it is only because they had so many things to deal 2650 with in their brief term of office that they had not time to touch this question, which has the interest and sympathy of Members of all parties.
In the history of the allotments movement it is interesting to note that it started originally as a rural movement under Mr. Jesse Collings. In the first instance it was very much bound up with the question of three acres and a cow. but in the course of its history it has turned out to be an urban or semi-urban question whose development was largely accentuated by the War. We were short of food. Food was difficult to get and expensive to buy and, therefore, every encouragement was given to people to cultivate every scrap of land that could be cultivated, thereby helping to increase our food supplies in a time of emergency. It is interesting to notice the figures of the number of people who cultivated allotments at every stage of the movement. In 1913 there were 580,000 allotment holders cultivating about 130,000 acres; in 1920 the number of allotment holders had risen to 1,330,000 and the acreage had gone up to 185,000; in 1923, the number of holders had dropped a little to 1,190,000 who occupied an acreage of 170,000, These figures show that the numbers of people who cultivate allotments has more than doubled since the, beginning of the war, while the acreage under cultivation as allotments has increased by only 13 per cent., and it is evident from that that the demand for allotments has been greatly in excess of the amount of land available.
The Act of 1922 was brought in to regularise the position with respect to the land acquired under the Defence of the Realm Act, under which a great deal of land had been taken temporarily and put into allotments. It was obvious that that position must come to an end. The terms of the Act of 1922 did give a certain amount of security to those occupying allotments under the emergency provisions, but under that Act great urban developments which had taken place recently were ignored. The first is the effect of the Town Planning Act, 1919. This Act is still in its infancy. We are not quite clear what the effect is going to be on the land which surrounds our urban district, but if this Act is to be a success, as we all hope it will be, it is evident that if we are to remove our population out of 2651 the town and settle them outside, if that settlement is to be a success, one of the main things which we must do is to make some provisions that those who dwell in these newly settled areas should have some reasonable facilities to cultivate the land. I submit that, so far as one can foresee, the cultivation of the land in the district is a legitimate recreation for the relief of portion of our population, and one object of the Bill is to provide that where land is scheduled with a view to future development the provision of allotments for those who are dwelling in those areas in the future shall be considered, and some steps shall be taken to deal with this question. Now that we are starting to plan our urban development it is only fitting that allotments shall have some small share instead of being left entirely to chance as was the case hitherto.
The other great change in our urban development is the effect of the various housing Acts culminating with the Act of the right hon. Member for Shettlestone (Mr. Wheatley) passed last year. One of the results of that Act has been that urban authorities have gone out of their own districts into the market as large purchasers of land, for the purpose of building houses. That in itself is a desirable thing, but, if those new housing schemes are to be a success, the local authorities must have power to provide facilities for allotments for the people whom they are shifting from the centre of the town. There is another point. When local authorities come into the market as large buyers of land they must have some power to purchase land for allotments, because it is obvious that when you have a great local authority, such as the Metropolitan Boroughs of this City, or great commercial boroughs such as Manchester, in the market as purchasers, they must upset, to some extent, the ordinary market value of the land which they are purchasing which may make it Very difficult for allotment societies to buy the land. It is hoped that this Bill will do something towards securing the position in that respect.
Before I turn to the provisions of the Bill, I would like to explain two omissions from it. The first is that there is no reference to land in the occupation of the Crown. I am given to understand that allotment holders on Crown lands do have 2652 a certain number of privileges, due to the fact that they hold under the Crown. But there is this difficulty in dealing with Crown lands. Ordinarily the Minister of Agriculture may be regarded as a champion of the rights of the allotment holder. By Statute the Minister is also regarded as the guardian of Crown lands. Where one has to balance the duties of the Minister in one direction against the duties of the Minister in another, I feel that the matter is too complicated to be dealt with by a private Member's Bill. It is a matter which, if it is to be dealt with at all, must be dealt with by the Government. The other omission is that the Bill does not apply to Scotland. Frankly I am very ignorant of the position of the land law in Scotland, and of the conditions of local administration in that country.
We have listened on many occasions, in the debates on the Housing Act of last Session, and on the Church of Scotland (Property and Endowments) Bill this year to complicated discussions on such subjects as teinds, landward and burghal panshes, and other matters which to the ordinary Englishman are quite unintelligible. They seem to have a very controversial effect among the. Scottish Members. At any rate the Scottish Members have a great flow of eloquence whenever these subjects are mentioned. I, as a mere Englishman, do not feel that I can venture to tread on ground which bristles with such complicated controversies about which I know nothing If the Scottish Members think that this Bill could be applied to Scotland, and if the Bill should get a Second Reading, I can assure them that any suggestions which they make will be most sympathetically considered in Committee. But for myself I dare not take the responsibility of interfering in such matters.
Now I turn to the Bill itself. Clause 2 is one which I very much hope the House will accept. Before the Act of 1922 was introduced, a Committee was set up representing the allotment holders, the allotment societies and the local authorities, which considered the question of the future of allotments very carefully. That Committee recommended that some assistance should be given to allotment holders from public funds. This recommendation was not introduced into the Act of 1922 because of the grave financial 2653 stringency at that moment. I am afraid that we cannot regard the financial position as altogether too rosy to-day. But when the Act of 1922 was passing through another place, a suggestion was made, and I believe was favourably considered by the Government of the day, that power should be given to approved societies to borrow money on easy terms from the Public Works Loans Commissioners. It is this suggestion that I have endeavoured to incorporate in Clause 2. I know that there are objections to loans of public money, but we have recently got more into the habit of lending public money for what, after all, is a public benefit. I very much hope that the House will at least accept the principle of that Clause, even though the details may require amendment and alteration in Committee. I trust that the Treasury will not regard this as an unwarranted raiding of public funds.
Clause 3 is the one which deals with town planning. I have already drawn attention to the necessity of having some provision for allotments in any future schemes of town planning. In this Clause I would call attention to Sub-sections (2) and (4). Sub-section (2) is rather cumbersome and complicated in form. The difficulty in dealing with allotments and town planning simultaneously is that the local authorities in the one case are not the same as the local authorities in the other. This Sub-section is an attempt to reconcile the interests of the two different sets of local authorities without setting up new committees or creating new machinery. Those hon. Members who are familiar with local public life know the burden of committees and the amount of work which is thrust on the shoulders of those who are looking after our local affairs. I am most anxious that nothing in the Bill should add unduly to those burdens. I do not know whether the machinery I have suggested will be satisfactory, but it is an attempt to meet a real difficulty without creating new committees and new machinery.
Sub-section (4) introduces a principle which I believe to be novel in the history of the allotment movement. It is the principle that where land has been taken for alloments by a local authority and that local authority subsequently requires the land for public purposes—it may be for building or for road widening or for some 2654 other public purpose—then before they can turn out the allotment holders they must provide land reasonably equipped as regards rent, site and area. It is quite obvious that in the matter of the development of our towns the rights of the allotment holders cannot be paramount. But I have never understood why they should not be treated with at least elementary justice, and if they are to lose advantages and give up their rights for the benefit of the whole community, I submit that they ought to receive equitable and reasonable treatment. This Sub-section includes a provision that where a local authority requires land for public purposes, it shall be obliged to do its best to provide for the dispossessed allotment holders, and I hope that that provision will commend itself to all fair-minded persons. It is not putting a very great burden on the local authorities. After all, if a local authority purchases land for allotments for any other purpose, it purchases that land with public money for the public use, and I submit that where it is holding land as a trustee for a certain purpose, if it is obliged to use that land for another public purpose, it should not be able to escape its obligations as a trustee. I hope the House will accept the principle, which is repeated in Clause 6.
Clause 4 is the last of the Clauses with which I wish to deal in detail. It may be the most controversial Clause in the Bill. It enables the local authority to buy land with public money, and limits the liability of the local authority to a penny rate in respect of sinking fund and interest. We all know that there are very grave objections to subsidising any one class of the community at the expense of their fellow ratepayers. It is a principle which, I am sorry to Bay, has not, perhaps, been so strictly observed just lately as it used to be. But when you have a local authority coming in to purchase land, as it is doing now for housing schemes, you are going to make it very difficult for any other body to purchase land in the immediate vicinity of those housing schemes on reasonable terms. At present a local authority may buy land for the purpose of allotments provided it is perfectly satisfied that the allotment schemes will be self-supporting. If the local authority is entering the market to buy land for housing, it is going to be almost impossible for that local authority 2655 to be satisfied whether the embryo allotment scheme for the future will be self-supporting or not. We all want to see these schemes as nearly self-supporting as possible, but if it has got the power to spend a certain amount of money and the amount is limited to a penny rate, the local authority can say, "Well, I will buy this field and turn it into allotments. In the event of this not being quite self-supporting I am safe. I will be able to spend a little money out of my rates towards helping the allotment holder."
At present the local authority may provide reduced tram fares to enable people to get to their allotments and, in that way, it is subsidising the allotments at the expense of the other ratepayers, and I do not think the very trifling charge that is likely to arise on this Clause will be a serious burden to the rest of the community. If I may take my own constituency as an example, a penny rate in Oxford realises approximately £ 2,000 a year, and that with sinking fund and interest, represents a capital sum at about £ 35,000—a capital expenditure which is far in excess of anything my constituency could possibly require for allotments. The power under this Clause is merely permissive, and I think in view of recent developments in connection with Town Planning Acts and the housing schemes now in operation, some power of this sort is necessary if allotments are to be preserved at all. The other Clauses deal largely with smaller points which have been raised as a result of experience of the administration of the Act of 1922. Not many of these Clauses are controversial in principle, although many will no doubt require careful discussion in detail To my mind these are rather points for discussion in Committee than points to be raised in a Second Reading Debate. I hope that hon. Members will give the Bill a Second Reading and allow us to discuss these matters in Committee.
In conclusion, while I do not wish to weary the House, I do desire to urge the Bill upon the House for another reason altogether from those I have given. To my mind one of the great drawbacks and defects of our modern civilisation is the divorce of the city dweller from the land. The city dweller does not reap, neither does he sow, and thereby he loses all touch with those slow processes of nature which are essential to him and which 2656 affect him as vitally as they affect any other living thing. After all, we are all children of nature. Not only are we individually children of nature, but, collectively, as a nation, we are bound by natural laws, and I feel, and have long felt, that this divorce of a large portion of our population from any direct contact with nature is, in itself, a menace to the security of the State. I recall the old fable of Hercules and Antaeus. It will be remembered that so long as Antaeus stuck to the ground his strength remained and improved, but when Hercules lifted him into the air his strength rapidly evaporated. That old fable is applicable to-day to the nation. The nation which is rooted in the soil will survive the tempests of war, will stand commercial disaster, and will emerge from these trials, shaken perhaps, but strong, healthy and virile. The nation which rests solely on an urban basis is liable to perish at the first attack.
In these days we cannot, and we would not, put back the clock, but there are things which we can do. We can encourage urban citizens to take an interest in the workings of nature; we can afford them facilities for making that interest practical, and that, I believe, is one of the great values of this allotment movement—that it brings the populations of the towns into direct contact with nature and teaches them some of the lessons which only nature can teach. I believe the cultivation of the soil is, in itself, of a great educative value. If it teaches our citizens nothing else than that doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Sidney Webb) so recently discovered, the doctrine of the inevitability of gradualness—a doctrine which, by the way, the rural population has known for generations—and if it can bring that doctrine home to the urban dweller, then in that alone the allotment movement will have done a work of the greatest national importance. It is because I believe this movement is of great national value and because I trust this Bill may contribute some mite towards the spread of that movement that I have ventured to introduce it to this House.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
I beg to second the Motion.
The allotment movement is an old and a venerable movement, dating back to 2657 distant and early times. In fact the first allotment of which we have any record was undoubtedly an allotment garden, and that is, perhaps, one of the reasons why the promoter of the Bill has used those words in the draft of the Measure. Picturing in one's mind the first allotment, its occupants appear to have met many vicissitudes and difficulties. They had no security of tenure and, in fact, we are told both of them were turned out at short notice and without compensation. Looking back upon it all it seems a pity that those early allotment holders did not devote their attention more assiduously to fulfilling the proper purpose of an allotment, namely, the cultivation of vegetables, rather than to plucking forbidden fruit. Had they done so things might have been different now, and we might have seen more of our women-folk working and assisting on the allotments, singling their crops rather than shingling their locks. Be that as it may, this Bill has been drafted in order to meet some of the difficulties which have become apparent as a result of the working of the Act of 19: 22. The Bill aims at securing for the allotment holder that measure of assistance of which many of us feel they stand in need, and to which we feel they are justly and rightly entitled.
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) for inviting me to support him in promoting a Measure which I regard as of great public utility and importance, and also for the opportunity which it affords me of indicating that the towns of Oxford and Cambridge are not necessarily always in opposition the one to the other. The Mover has pointed out the immense extent of the allotment movement, and the ever-growing part it is playing in our urban and rural economy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman gave the House a few figures and I will not do more than supplement them to a modest extent. The acreage devoted to allotments held by local authorities has nearly doubled between 1914 and 1923, and the total number of allotment holders, working allotments provided from different sources, has increased from 580,000 in 1914 to 1,190,000 in 1923. I am sorry the figures are not available for 1924 because I think they might disclose a further increase. It is true there was a slight 2658 setback between 1920 and 1923 which, is easily accounted for by the fact of the D.O.R.A. regulations being rescinded. The recent vast increase in the number of allotment holders is due to the War, and while the development of the movement was vital during war time, we still hold it to be necessary in peace time. The movement is a great economic movement and, I think, essential to the welfare of the community. Now that it has become so largely a town movement, it has rapidly become organised, and is becoming vocal in its demands. That is all to the good of the allotment, movement as a whole. I observe that certain organs of the Press, notably the "Daily Mail," are setting out upon a campaign for a brighter life and more pleasure and amusement for our town workers. One hopes that that campaign may be successful, and that the objects aimed at may be attained, but even if the allotment movement cannot do that, it can at any rate bring great advantages to the town dwellers in other ways. It comes as an aid to health, it provides recreation, and it is also a means of augmenting the food supplies of our people.
This Bill seeks to achieve four important things. It seeks, first of all, to facilitate the acquisition of land for allotments; it endeavours to ensure that reasonable compensation shall be forthcoming for an allotment holder under notice to quit; to provide that, when land has to be diverted to major public uses, such as housing, at any rate the allotment holders who are dispossessed should as far as possible be found other suitable land for their cultivation; and, again, it endeavours to prevent the eviction of allotment holders when the land is not ripe for these other public purposes. An allotment garden, as referred to in this Bill, is a plot of land, not exceeding 40 poles, which is wholly or mainly devoted to the cultivation of vegetables or fruit for the consumption of the occupier and his family. It will be seen that at least four allotment gardens can be provided for every acre of land which is obtained. The Bill follows closely another Bill which was before this House, and which many hon. Members will recollect, a year or so ago, many of whose provisions will be found incorporated in this Bill.
Clause 2 has already been referred to by my hon. and gallant friend, and deals 2659 with the acquisition of land, enabling the Public Works Loans Commissioners to lend money to approved societies requiring funds for the acquisition of land. Facilities of this kind have long been available to public authorities and others so far as small holdings are concerned, and we think it is only fair that those facilities should also be made available as far as possible to the allotment holders. If the "Back to the Land" movement, which many of us regret has proved singularly unprogressive in rural areas during the past few years, is to be stimulated, I feel that we should also assist the allotment holders, particularly in urban areas, for nowhere has the healthy human craving for land and allotments been more apparent than in our urban centres.
Clause 9 compels the rating authority, when so required, to rate land in the occupation of an allotment association as one occupation. At present an association may be rated by the rating authorities as one occupation, or as a number of occupations. I suggest that this Clause will act to the advantage of the rating authorities, in that it will reduce the cost of the collection of rates, and to the advantage of the allotment associations, because it will tend to stimulate the formation and growth of these associations. It will also be to the advantage of the occupiers themselves, because their assessments will be more easily appealed against if they are excessive, and they will be able to get those compounding abatements which would not otherwise be available to them. Clause 10. Sub-section 2, provides for more direct representation of allotment holders. Under the Act of 1922, any borough with a population of 10,000 or more was placed under a statutory obligation to set up an allotment committee. That allotment committee might, under that Act, be either an existing committee of a local authority, or a sub-committee of an existing committee. Under this Clause, it will be observed that the words "or a sub-committee of an existing committee" are to be deleted. That means that in future the allotment committee is to be a live committee of the local authority. It will have direct access to the council itself, and it will get more publicity for its proceedings, and in that way be able to exert 2660 more legitimate pressure upon the council concerned.
All cultivators of the soil necessarily suffer under disabilities from which other workers are largely immune. They always have their old arch-enemy, the Clerk of the Weather, who has a good hand every time, for in fact he always holds the trump cards up against them. The old saying, as far as the cultivator of the soil is concerned, seems to sum up their position—Whether the weather be cold,Or whether the weather be hotWhether the weather be dry,Or whether the weather be not,They must weather the weather,Whatever the weather,Whether they like it or not.If that be the case—and it must ever be so—let us do our best to lighten the burden, and to assist the cultivators of allotments by removing as many as possible of the disabilities from which they suffer, and which we find it in our power to remove from their path. There is only one other point to which I would like to allude. If, and when—and I sincerely hope it may be before long—this Bill reaches the Statute Book, I hope it will be followed by a consolidating Measure. At the present time our Statute Book is littered with Acts relating to small holdings and allotments and other land questions, and it is difficult indeed to find out what the law really does provide. Cross references, however popular they may be at the present moment in other places, should not, I think, find an unnecessary acceptance in the pages of our Acts of Parliament. There is a saying—and this will be my final word—which has been handed down to us from ancient times: "God speed the plough!" May I, to-day, respectfully ask this House to "speed the spade"?
§ The MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. Edward Wood)
I am sure that there will be, in all quarters of the House, a desire to congratulate my two hon. Friends upon the delightful manner in which they introduced this subject to our attention. Their speeches have betrayed what, to me, I must confess, have been hitherto undiscovered qualities. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) betrayed a knowledge of mythology which delighted the House, even those of us who 2661 were previously ignorant of it. My hon. Friend who supported him betrayed a not less intimate knowledge of Holy Writ, and ended by astonishing the House by revealing the qualities of a poet. No doubt all that was eminently fitting as coming from two gentlemen who, as they reminded us, have the honour of sitting for the two ancient Boroughs of Oxford and Cambridge. Incidentally, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) was in error when he thought that the charge that was commonly made against Oxford and Cambridge was that they were always in disagreement with one another. The charge I have generally heard preferred against Oxford and Cambridge was that, in agreement with one another, they resisted everything that other people thought reasonable.
It is, therefore, a peculiar pleasure, no doubt to Members in all parts of the House, to find Oxford and Cambridge linked together in the cause of reform. The only lurking suspicion which hon. Members might, perhaps, entertain was one similar to that which they sometimes feel when the two Front Benches agree—they must then be on their guard against some sinister machination. The ordinary Member who sits for an. ordinary constituency will, no doubt, examine this Bill with that caveat as to the agreement of these two ancient boroughs before named. Apart from that, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford, who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, said, quite truly, that it had never in any sense been a party question, and he was on very strong ground, I think, in appealing for what he is quite certain to receive, the general support and sympathy of the House in a friendly examination of the general question of the provision of allotments. Both he and my hon. Friend who seconded did right, I think, to emphasise the great social importance of the allotment movement, and that from both angles.
The allotment movement is, and always has been, to my mind, a kind of meeting point, where town meets country, and country meets town, the promontory over which one moves to meet the other, and on which they may both meet and shake hands, and understand one another better. I can conceive no movement that, from that point of view, charged, as I happen 2662 to be at the moment, with the responsibilities of agriculture, that ought to command more warmly our sympathy, and I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me in my office will agree with me in that. Anything that spreads knowledge of agriculture among the industrial population is directly doing important work. I rather think it was Lord Ernle who, in this House, once said that an allotment holder who had had his pea-crop destroyed by a hail-storm would be more sympathetic to the farmer whose corn-crop had been laid by a thunderstorm, and that is, of course, profoundly true.
My hon. Friends referred, also truly, to the immense influence of the War on this movement. The War was responsible for a great many unforeseen attachments, some regular, some less regular, some that have proved themselves to be permanent, others that from time to time are dissolved both in private and public life. But the allotment movement has been, I think, one of the greatest romances of the War. My hon. Friends told the story in figures, and their figures, indeed, are extremely eloquent of the immense progress that the allotment movement made during that time; but it really is not too much to say that to those of us who remember the point to which the allotment movement reached at its height, at the end of the War, it really was amazing to see the waste, almost dustbin, bits of land that were suddenly cleaned and brought into allotment work, and, in so doing, furnished food to eat, soil to till and recreation to enjoy.
That all was, really, a romance, and the power and the advantage of it are not by any means dropped. It is true that, originally, what was mainly a rural movement, has now become more of an urban movement. I have had, and every Member, I expect, has had a good deal of experience, that it is by no means exceptional for a man who gets bitten with the soil through an allotment, to find his way on to a small holding, and through a small holding on to a farm, and, in so doing, to bring a new current of human material into the rather stable business of agriculture. That is a matter of immense advantage, and immense profit, and the explanation of it, of course, is that as my hon. Friends had 2663 present to their minds, in all this you are really dealing with one of the primitive instincts of mankind. It is the call of the soil from which we spring, and to which we are, therefore, so to speak, permanently enchained in our instincts. I have known men who have been willing to go three, four and five miles out of a town to their allotments, so strong was the call of the soil to the town-dweller. It is not, I think, without its interest, that although the agriculturist generally, I think, is against the artificial interfering with the clock, on which we voted a week ago, and on which I voted for leaving the clock as it was, there can be no doubt that to the allotment holder and owner, the alteration of the clock is of the greatest possible benefit. That, I think, we must all admit.
I, therefore, suggest that, inasmuch as this allotment movement rests upon what I have called one of the primitive instincts of our human kind, it is wise statesmanship to try to build upon what are the natural instincts of the human kind, and it is for that reason that I welcome, and I am sure the House generally will welcome, the efforts that my hon. Friends are making in this direction We have a good deal to learn in this respect from our Continental neighbours Perhaps I might give the House some figures. The figure relating to France, though scarcely comparable, is sufficiently remarkable, for in the country they have 2½ million holdings under two and a half acres, representing an acreage of between 3,000.000 and 3,500.000. That is, I think, rather a remarkable figure, because in France you have not got that great concentration of industrial population that we have here; I think it suggests to us the necessity of doing all we can to make efforts to extend our provision of allotments. You set the same story from Belgium, Germany and else where. So much for the general principle. The hon. Gentlemen who introduced this were wise to remember the immense part that is played in this movement by the private provider of allotments. I am right in saying I think that something like 60 per cent. of the acreage of allotments are found by private owners. That may be a situation that hon. Members may like or which they may dislike, but that is the situation which obtains to-day, and I 2664 myself am fully satisfied from the investigations I have made—although I may not carry hon. Members opposite me in this—that the terms on which allotments are provided by private owners are better on the average than the terms on which they are provided by the public authority. I think that is true.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how the terms granted by private owners to allotment holders compare with those on which the land is granted by the same people to the large farmers?
§ Mr. WOOD
No, I could not do that without notice, but it might well be that the allotment holders would pay somewhat higher than the farmers because allotments would not be required unless it was very good and suitable land. A farmer's rent is based on good and bad land together. However, I do not wish to be diverted from my general argument to issues that are really not relevant. But I would emphasise the point I was making, and add that is is of great importance in the efforts we are making to extend the allotment movement, and to secure greater security of tenure of the allotment holders, that we should endeavour to avoid running the risk of drying up the provision of allotments at the source. This Bill recognises very clearly that there is bound to be a certain amount of rivalry between the claims of housing and the claims of soil cultivation: that is a point which ought constantly to be borne in mind. I, myself, have little doubt that at the moment there is a very considerable unsatisfied demand for allotments, a demand that has probably been accumulating in the course of the last two or three years, and which, therefore, it is the duty of Parliament and the State to help to satisfy.
I have, therefore, indicated the general attitude and the general point of view from which the Government and I regard this Bill and the general question with which it deals. The House, I think, will wish to give it a Second Reading by general consent, though there are matters, I have no doubt, which from one angle or another hon. Members or the Government will feel ought to be carefully examined and discussed in Committee. Some hon. Members may wish to 2665 alter this, some hon. Members may wish to alter that, but I think there is nothing in the Bill that ought to deny us, or any Member, the chance of supporting the Second Reading, reserving to ourselves, of course, full liberty to make such necessary suggestions for amendments which we feel to be necessary.
For example, I should wish to make some on behalf of the Government, but I do not want for the moment to go into details, because these are more relevant to a later stage. Therefore, on behalf of the Government who welcome the fact that my hon. Friends have introduced this Bill, I think I may say that they may fully count upon the House joining with them and giving it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
Perhaps I may indicate my sympathy with the more general aims that have been expressed this morning by quoting a few words from a great authority in connection with agriculture. I refer to Sir Daniel Hall, who has stated thatThere is no more deeply-seated desire, or delight, than that which men associate with growing things…. This makes life very real and vivid, and lends a glimpse of poetry and nature-worship to men whose lot is otherwise east in grey and even sordid surroundings.We are all conscious of the enormous value of the allotment movement for working out the possibility of such an ideal as Sir Daniel Hall has expressed. There are valuable points, everyone will agree, in the Bill. Consequently I could wish that it were a more adequate Bill, especially in regard to the powers of acquisition which, I think, is a sphere in which there have been grave defects in our allotment system. I should like to see the Bill go a great deal further. The Labour party is, of course, deeply concerned in any Measure in connection with allotments, and the Bill, therefore, deserves a Second Reading. In the urban sphere there has been a most startling progress. Those of us Who can remember the time when the idea of allotments was almost regarded as revolutionary will be delighted at the extraordinary advance that has been made. That is mainly due to the War. On the rural side of the matter, to which I shall particularly call attention in a moment, there has not been such satisfactory progress as there might 2666 have been if sufficient sympathetic consideration had been given to those who could use allotments. With regard to the country problem, it was only by means of the allotment, leading to the small holding, that one could attempt to rebuild a rural civilisation. The civilisation which existed in a certain form 150 years ago was really uprooted by the Enclosure Act, and there was within the memory of many of us, a helpless wage-earning class who had no chance of getting back to a civilised village life without the ladder afforded by allotments. If I may be allowed another literary allusion—with no desire to rake up grievances—it is a simple historic fact that the well-known rhyme is perfectly true—The law condemns the man or womanWho steals the goose from off the common,But lets the greatest sinner looseWho steals the common from the goose.It is simply a historical fact that rural civilisation was destroyed and required allotments to rebuild it. We have the report of the Departmental Committee, dealing mainly with urban, but also with rural allotments, as a guide-book in this matter. The Bill adopts some, but not very many, of the recommendations of the Departmental Committee, and I think it might very well be enlarged, especially when one remembers that there are now probably more than 15,000 unsatisfied applications, the greater number being from men considered qualified to hold an allotment. In my short period of responsibility I endeavoured to gather more facts in regard to the unsatisfied demand, but when I left office results were not complete. Rather more than a year ago local authorities were asked for returns, to be made out by the end of January, but out of 14,000 authorities only 11,000 had made returns up to the end of April, and out of those over 4,000, I believe, reported that they had no allotments in their areas. Unquestionably there is there a sphere which has not been dealt with.
Of the reasons both for inadequate demand for allotments and inadequate provision of them—unwillingness to provide or take allotments—I think the most important is connected with the legal notice to quit. I should be surprised if the Mover and Seconder of this Bill in 2667 their heart of hearts, would not have liked to make more drastic proposals in regard to notice to quit. Probably not a single Member of this House would take an allotment, if it were his main provision for cultivation, on the terms on which many allotment holders hold them now. It is quite sufficient to kill the movement—the fact, as regard a large class of them, that one may be put in a corner, even during the summer six months, and compelled to waste a large part of one's crops. It is not my intention to dwell on other defects in the Bill, but I think this matter of notice to quit is really of much greater importance than the proposal in regard to compensation. It is noticeable that one or two points have been omitted from this Bill which were in the Bill previously introduced by the Allotment Holders Association. Other points, like that in connection with town planning, the Bill does adopt; but on the more important point of notice to quit, I think it is defective.
Not very much has been said this morning on the rural side of the matter, and I should like to call attention to the great lack of consideration for the convenience of possible allotment holders in villages. There is visible evidence of the inconvenient position so constantly occupied by allotments, leading a man who works very long hours to feel that it is really not worth while to have an allotment if he has to take even a quarter of a mile's walk from his house before he can get to it.
The machinery for the acquisition of allotments is not so easy as it might be. There ought to be a provision which would make it easier for a county council to ginger an unwilling parish council more easily than it can at present. The county ought to have the power, as the Departmental Committee advise, to let direct to allotment holders. In my small experience there are many parishes with no allotments at all where there are men extremely anxious for them, generally for cultivation, but sometimes because they have no gardens and want to keep pigs. The demand there remains unsatisfied, because the parish council is dominated by farmers, and it is too difficult to bring the pressure of the county council into action.
2668 I do not see why the allotment movement should not take on a more economic aspect than it has done. Business methods might be introduced and real agricultural progress, properly speaking, might be promoted through the allotment movement, if there were greater facilities, and the counties used their powers under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, to encourage allotment holders to organise and form co-operative societies, and use the facilities offered by the State for borrowing money. In Ireland, under the Congested Districts Board, a perfect revolution was created amongst extremely small holders by instructors of the right kind; it led to rural cultivation, production and industry being set on foot where it had not been thought of before. Counties should realise the powers they have, especially since the cessation of the activities, in some degree, of the Agricultural Organisation Society, to make a really business movement of the allotment movement in suitable places. In Cambridgeshire, I think, a certain amount of strawberry-growing is done on allotments, and I would like to see that spreading to other parts of the country. There is a new opening for the allotment movement due in some degree to the regulation of agricultural wages. Previously they had no security for the half-holiday, now they have virtually got the half-holiday, and many men who were doubtful about taking an allotment may now be inclined to do so.
A quarter of the authorities are still without allotments, and there has been a failure to apply for them partly because men are still afraid and partly because the councils are apathetic, the farmers are not always ready to assist, rent is often excessive, and the' county councils are slow and have not sufficient powers. It is quite essential to supplement wages with the opportunities offered by an allotment, and there are ever so many villages where no such chance exists. Practically the only ladder to the small holding is the allotment, and I have known myself some very successful smallholders who would never have had a start or risen above common labourers if it had not been that some little corners of fields were cut off by the coming of a railway, and this happened to make provision for allotments. The chance of incentive in rural life otherwise is stifled, and in villages where there are no allot- 2669 ments it is no wonder that you have a tendency to emigrate.
I remember one or two cases where farmers themselves, talking of the migration of men from the land, have said that they were not surprised considering the little chance a man had to exercise his own incentive or choice in his work, and they were not surprised that he should insist upon going either to the town or the colonies. The allotment movement has undoubtedly helped to stem emigration. We cannot exaggerate the value of public health in these matters. In an urban community there are perhaps very few spheres of action more important than the one we are discussing and I am glad that the Minister feels that and realises that something must be done to make the machinery more easily oiled.
There is one respect in which he as the late Minister of Education will I hope take special interest in regard to rural education. I am sure there is a great deal to be done to encourage the land feeling and atmosphere which is now neglected in the village schools. There is a potential land hunger which is not really given a chance as it was to some extent given a chance by the spirit which prevailed in war time. I think we shall, however, in spite of proposals like those we are considering, always be handicapped and hampered until we have a more expeditious machinery for the acquisition of land. If land were under public control you would have to-day a much greater development of the allotment movement.
There are cases where county boroughs or other boroughs own a large part of the land in their area. I believe that is the case around Gloucester and Huddersfield, where you have a remarkably successful allotment system, and that is because those corporations had the land in their own hands, and it could be easily got at in the position most wanted. We shall be hampered until we have greater facilities for control. We are hampered in numberless ways apart from that by excessive consideration for private interests where allotments are required. I hope that the need for allotments will, in comparison with private interests, be regarded as being of absolutely paramount importance.
§ Mr. FENBY
I should like to join, on behalf of the part to which I happen to belong, in the general welcome extended to the Allotment Bill which is before; us for the Second Reading this afternoon. I think, on its merits alone, apart altogether from the general question, the Bill is entitled to support from every part of the House. May I say, with all respect, that my belief is that if the provisions of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, had been as warmly welcomed and put into operation in the years between 1908 and 1914, we should have found ourselves in a much more favourable position during the War with regard to food production than we happened to find ourselves. May I emphasise the point just made by the late Minister for Agriculture. He has made the point that land acquisition is a very important part of the allotment movement, and while I know that in the Allotment Bill before us one of its purposes is stated to be the more rapid acquisiton of land, I am sorry that this Bill does nothing to cut away the red tape which is very tightly tied round the provisions of Acts of Parliament with regard to a more speedy acquisition of land for purposes of allotments.
I agree with the late Minister of Agriculture as to the rural side of this question. There are many instances where populations of 2,000 and 3,000 have no allotments provided by the local authority. What is the procedure? I am not saying this disrespectfully at all, but you may have two or three labourers upon the parish council who find it very difficult to bring their agitation to a successful point with regard to the provision of small holdings. But suppose the parish council does agree, and it fails to obtain land under a voluntary arrangement for allotments. What happens? It applies to the County Council Small Holdings and Allotment Sub-Committee. They send an official down to survey and investigate the position, and he reports to a subsequent meting of the committee. Then the committee decide to send down representatives to make further investigation and I have an application from my own committee asking; me to appoint a day for a similar inquiry. The committee send members to hold an inquiry into the circumstances and legitimacy of the demand as to why the parish council 2671 has failed to find land by voluntary arrangement, and if they agree that voluntary arrangements have failed then they can take steps to acquire land compulsorily for the purpose of allotment.
Then they must issue their order, and when that has been done if any interested person objects and the landowner, the tenant, or a member of the parish council or a ratepayer come within the purview of the interested parties, then even after the county authority has held its inquiry the Department over which the Minister of Agriculture presides sends down a Commissioner to hold a further inquiry. and if he agrees with the result of the inquiry held previously, then it is a question of what rent shall be paid; and if the parish council and the owner cannot agree it goes to arbitration. All this red tape machinery has prevented the acquisition of allotments in a much more rapid way. I say this not from any point of view of carping criticism, but the real root of the difficulty is the red tape tied round by Acts of Parliament with regard to a more speedy acquisition of land. I am disappointed that more generous provision is not suggested with regard to local authorities being enabled to levy a penny rate for the purposes of allotments. I do not look at the allotment question merely as one of subsidising a section of the community. I look upon it as a matter concerning public health. When we have our parks and pleasure grounds provided in our large urban areas as lungs for fresh air and for purposes of recreation, we do not for a moment object to any payment out of the rates. I want to see in our urban and congested areas and in our great cities, immediately contiguous to the city boundary or if it be possible within the boundary itself, large open spaces, permanently and completely devoted, in an attractive fashion so far as lay out is concerned, to allotment purposes, so that we may have, not only parks, whore people go to enjoy themselves by games and that kind of thins: and which provide lungs for the large city population, but also the more fruitful and important provision of large spaces for allotments, so that men may have opportunities for recreation and for food production and so that there may be plenty of fresh air for the people who live in our cities.
2672 If I understand aright the Clause whereby local authorities are to be enabled to spend up to a penny rate, it is confined to cases where land is acquired by way of a town planning scheme. There ought to be more generous provision. The provision of allotments in a rural or urban area including the cost of acquisition, the making of roads, and anything concerning equipment should not be entirely and always placed upon the man who cultivates the allotment and provides his own vegetables. Generally speaking, the local authorities should be able to charge up to a penny rate. I do not say that is too generous—it may not be generous enough in some areas—for the purpose of assisting in the provision of allotments. I am glad to find that there is a proposal to recognise Small Holding and Allotment Associations that are properly registered. But here, again, I am lather surprised at the lack of generosity in the financial provisions. If a county, operating through its Small Holdings and Allotments Committee under the Act of 1908, be granted money by way of loan through the public Works Loan Commissioners, there are 50 years allowed for buildings and 80 years for land and under the Lands Settlement Act there are 84 years allowed for land and, I believe, 60 years for building. Why should the repayment be limited to 35 years in the case of the societies mentioned in this Bill? It does seem to me that some more generous provision should be made for the man who is not only putting his work but also his money into the allotment movement, and I do hope that the House will see to it in Committee that some steps are taken to provide more generous provision. On this point I want to offer a word of criticism. Why should the penny rate be limited to land proposed to be purchased under the provisions of the Town Planning Act? Why should it not be extended to land which is leased, as it can be under the Small Holdings Act, 1908, for 40 or 35 years.
Then there is the question of security of tenure. That is the whole root of the matter. If I understood him rightly, the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Buxton) said that the terms under which allotments were provided by private persons were often more generous than those under which allotments were provided by public 2673 authorities. If a man has an allotment through a public authority the security of tenure which he enjoys makes up to a great extent for any handicap he may suffer with regard to the terms. If I might put the view of the rural allotment holder, he has to be careful, if he be under a private owner, whether he is a radical or a ranter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am putting the point of view of the rural allotment holder who has said this to me: "If I have my allotment under a public authority, I can be a ranter or a radical, or anything I like, but I have security of tenure, providing I do two tilings, namely, pay my rent, and cultivate my allotment." It seems to me that, though hon. Members may suggest I am a little bit extreme, they meet this point of view, because land is to be provided by the public authorities in order that the allotment holder may have security of tenure.
The allotment movement makes for contentment among the general body of the people as much as any movement. If hon. Members will forgive me, I will relate a little experience of my own. I went into a public-house in a village just after Christmas and there met an allotment holder. I inquired of him what kind of Christmas they had had in this somewhat large village. "Well," he said, "we have only had the missionaries." I asked him if he went and heard them, and he replied, "No, give me skimpy and a pint, and you can have paradise." That man was content, because he had an allotment through a public authority which he was cultivating, and he was hard at work every bit of his spare time. My right hon. Friend the late Minister of Agriculture thought that four or five miles was too far for a man to go to his allotment. I agree that five miles is too far, but I think that a man very keen to have an allotment would not hesitate to travel a quarter of a mile. I agree that we must have a consolidation of these bodies, so that we can get them all together, and I think it will have to be realised that it is not always possible to get the land for allotments immediately at hand. Provision will have to be made whereby the land can be obtained as near as possible and at a reasonable, rent, and, of course, the further out you go the more reasonable the rent will be. That being so, some means of transport will have to be pro- 2674 vided whereby men can get to and from their allotments, can take manures and so forth, and bring back the produce that they grow.
I should like to refer to one criticism that may be levelled against this movement, that allotments of a larger area are are not a profitable venture. I have in mw possession a balance sheet of an ex-service man who was only able to use one arm because of his service during the War, but who, out of his allotment of two acres, made a profit of £ 80 in one year after paying rent, rates and other expenses, including manures and labour. I am very glad, on behalf of the party which I have the honour to represent, to give this Bill a very hearty welcome, and I hope it will get a speedy passage through the House. I would appeal to the hon. and gallant Member, in the interests of agriculture, to induce the Minister to give it facilities. I will reserve for the Committee stage such criticisms as I may have to make, which I hope will be found instructive by hon. Members opposite and will make the Bill even more valuable than it is as it stands.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
It has been said quite truly that this is more a Bill to help urban allotment holders than rural people outside the towns, but it was pointed out by the Minister of Agriculture, and many of us who live four or five miles away from a town are beginning to realise, that, owing to the transport facilities now available and the great keenness of people to get allotments, the question will have to be considered as regards those outside the towns as well as those who live in the immediate neighbourhood of a town. Any Allotments Bill that is passed for the benefit of urban districts must also be the law for the country districts. As regards this Bill, which I am proud to say has my name on the back of it, all the points have been so clearly put before the House that I have not very much to add. There has been great unanimity of opinion, and little has been said in opposition, but, although we are all in favour of the Bill, there are some points against it which I should just like to bring before the notice of the House. The difficulty in regard to giving security of tenure, which, I agree with the last speaker, is the crux of the whole matter, whether in rural districts or otherwise, arises through land changing 2675 hands owing to death. Heavy death duties have to be paid, and, consequently, the land has to be realised, and allotment holders and other tenants find their security of tenure taken away. I think this Bill does something to help them in that respect. It does give local authorities the power to a certain extent to buy land where it is wanted for allotments, and that provision will be an advantage.
I am informed that strong objection is taken to this Bill, or, rather, to the Section in the Act of 1922 with regard to the question of security of tenure for three months. The position in that case is that when land is to be sold for building outside a big town the owners say that, owing to this Clause, they must refuse to let the land to allotment holders who apply for it, because if they did, those people who would otherwise buy the land for building will not do so. Nobody wants to interfere with building any more than with the allotment movement, but I think that, if you are breaking up and selling land for building, you ought not at the same time to expect to be able to let it for allotments, because you must realise what an allotment holder wants. The man with a small amount of capital is the man whom you want to encourage on the land. He has to buy implements and seed, and, perhaps, put up a little shed, and he counts, for an addition to his small family income, on the produce that he gets from his garden during the year. If that man goes on to an allotment where he has not security of tenure, he is either a fool or is very ignorant, and we must realise that many allotment holders from the towns are entirely ignorant of agriculture, and are very likely to be led into a trap.
One point that has been mentioned is the great value of the allotment movement in relation to agricultural education. Probably the two things that most help the agricultural interest to get in touch with the towns are agricultural shows and allotments. Both of these things bring people out of the towns, and they learn at first hand what it means to till your own land and grow your own produce. I believe that nothing will be of greater assistance to agriculture than the allotment movement and agricultural shows in the instruction they give to people from the towns. The right hon. Gentleman 2676 the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) asked whether the terms were comparable where land was let to farmers and where it was let for allotments. Of course, I do not know what the terms are outside my own district, but in my own case the conditions, both for allotment holders and for farmers, as regards security of tenure, namely, one year's notice and compensation, are the same. That is generally the case with the landowners around me, and is one reason why there are 60 per cent. more allotment holders renting from private owners than there are venting from public authorities. On the whole, in the rural districts—and I am only speaking of them—equal terms are given to both, and better terms than can be got from the local authorities within the towns.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
What I wanted to know was whether the rent per acre was about the same in the two cases?
It is a little more for allotment holders, because there are more fences. My allotments are let at 9d. a rod, and the land at £ 1 an acre.
There is very little difference. The late Minister of Agriculture, in criticising the Bill, said he would have given much greater powers, or, rather, would have put more compulsory powers on the county councils, to take land and so forth. About a year ago I was a member of a body who received from the right hon. Gentleman, when he was Minister of Agriculture, a letter which irritated them a great deal, though it was perfectly sound and I agreed with it. He wrote to the County Agricultural Committee to say that they ought to use their powers to make bad farmers clean their land and help the landlords to take steps in that direction, and that they ought to give further facilities to the landlords to do that. It is perfectly true, and as a 2677 landlord I should use my influence in that direction. But I submit that a Bill on these lines, without too much compulsory power and with good will is more likely to effect what we want. In conclusion, I only want to say that the opinion was expressed yesterday at the National Council of Agriculture for England, not only by the Council, but by Mr. Acland, who used to be a distinguished agricultural Member of this House, that this Bill, in their opinion, ought to be given a Second Reading, and Mr. Acland hoped the Government would give it every facility for Second Reading. As hon. Members know, that is an expression of opinion from all classes of agriculture, representing the whole of the counties, and by others appointed by the Minister representative of the whole industry. That is an opinion which, I am sure, will weigh with the House, and I am quite sure that all parties in this House will, at all events, give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Sir HENRY SLESSER
It is an unfortunate fact that, when a Bill of this sort, of such extraordinary value and importance is before us, the House should be occupied by so few Members, when on other occasions when matters appealing to trade unionists and other such Bills are discussed the House is packed out with Members to take part in the Debate. I rise to lake part in this discussion, not because I wish to deal with the details of this Bill. As a Member of this House it previously has been my painful duty to deal with some minute legal point in a Bill, but I wish now to speak on the principles which seem to underlie this Bill and make it so admirable. I am one of those who believe that fundamentally our whole present industrial system is top-heavy on the industrial side, and that, as the Mover said, and I think very truly said, in proposing this Bill to the House, it is essential we should get back to a more agricultural state. From the mere economic aspect of this case I do not think sufficient prominence is given to the fact that the products which are raised on allotments represent real wealth. Some people seem to think that the only way in which wealth can be produced is when you manufacture articles, when you induce some foreigner to take them and they send you back food. That is called trade, the production of wealth, and is looked upon by some as the only 2678 function on which the people of the nation can be employed. If we produce food in the first instance, it is equally wealth.
As I understand the purpose of this allotment legislation, it is not only to give people a very much fuller and happier life but actually is a part solution of the poverty problem and the unemployment problem. From that point of view particularly I welcome this legislation. i happen to represent one of the most congested, one of the poorest divisions in England—South East Leeds. There is scarcely a blade of grass in the whole of my constituency, which contains a large number of men who are ready and anxious to cultivate allotments. They are persons in whom the "land hunger" is particularly keen. A great many of them are of Irish extraction and very largely spent their youth in Ireland in agricultural pursuits. They feel the deprivation that they have to live all their time in miserable and crowded streets, in spite of the fact that they have this great desire to work on the land. The conditions now are such that it is very very difficult for them, unless they are going to travel a considerable distance, to get the allotments at all. I am not saying that Leeds is not generous in the provision of allotments, but the case is that the land is such a long way from where these people work, therefore, I think it is an important provision in this Bill that in town-planning schemes in future there shall be belts of land earmarked for allotments, so that as a town grows up men will not find it any longer necessary to travel three or four miles after their work to reach their allotments. I agree with the hon. Member who said that a quarter of a mile is not an unreasonable distance to go, but when it comes to going two or three miles to get to the allotment and then to go back to the home it is really too much and makes the accommodation of the allotment almost impossible. The question of the accessibility of the site is of real importance in making the allotment a success.
May I say something of another value which attaches to the allotment movement. It is a method of combining enjoyment with vocation. So much enjoyment nowadays merely consists in sitting and watching other people amuse themselves. In the cinema or at a football match, or whatever it may be, the person 2679 who is trying to enjoy himself is not contributing to the work which is being done. In allotment work a man is both interested in the work itself and gets his enjoyment out of it. That is a more natural and human way of enjoyment than artificial and secondary methods, which are often the only chance a man may have of amusing himself. I want to be honest and to say I would not be satisfied until every citizen in this country has some property in the form of land which would make him secure so that, in the last resort, if he be threatened by unemployment, through lack of work or by the coercion of an employer or the monopoly of a combine or whatever the reason may be, that man should have something to fall back on of his own and therefore make him an independent and free individual. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad to hear the applause from the other side of the House, and I hope it may lead to a Bill being brought in to divide up the land of this country so that everybody shall have a portion of it. The allotment movement in its way, and this Bill in particular, go in that direction. It gives a little more tenure, a little more independence, and a little more freedom than people have at present, and that is why I welcome it?, but it is only the beginning of a very much larger attempt which we shall make and, for all I know, which some hon. Members on the other side, will make. We want to get back to a condition of affairs where the individual man will have far greater control over the conditions of his own work and over his life, where he shall live and how he shall live, than he has to-day, and one of the principal ways in which that can be done is to give him land.
The other deficiency in the present allotment legislation is that, while we give land to some, we do not sufficiently give facilities for cultivating the land. The credit societies that exist are not nearly sufficient. It is necessary that men should be given credit to purchase implements, seeds and manures. In all these matters they should be assisted far more generously than they are. It is useless merely giving a man a patch of land unless you also give him the means to cultivate that land. I hope it may be possible to amend the Bill so that the maintenance of allotments may be made 2680 to include the provision of means by which allotments may be made useful. It is no good merely offering a man land unless you give him the means of cultivating it too. The ordinary bank certainly is not going to advance a credit to allotment holders. It is not what some people call a financial proposition. [An HON. MEMBER: "How much will it cost to cultivate an allotment of this description?"] I am not concerned now to go into the details of the figures of the cost. I take it that this House has already decided, in introducing and developing allotment legislation, that the immediate cost in pounds, shillings and pence is not the primary consideration. We have a mass of allotment legislation. What I am pointing out is that that legislation sooner or later will need assistance to be given, as was indeed promised to ex-soldiers, and should be promised to all workers, towards providing implements, sheds and manures and the things which these credit societies give them now. My criticism is that they are not big enough, or powerful enough, or doing it on sufficiently large a scale. I am not speaking of theory; I am speaking of actual fact. Many of my own constituents have come to me, and I have asked them why, some of them being unemployed, they did not take up an allotment, and they have answered that they have no money to buy spades, seeds and so forth. All I am pointing out—and I do not think many hon. Members will really quarrel with what I am saying—is that to make an allotment effective you do not merely need the soil, but you need the means of tilling the soil, and you must give adequate facilities for working the land. I do not understand this question of cost at all. Surely it is an economic proposition that a man should be given land and allowed to raise some of the fruits of the earth. I do it myself, and no doubt the hon. Member does when he gets the time. It is an economic proposition, it is a physical proposition, and it is a sound proposition in every way. We must do everything we can to cultivate this movement. I should like to pay a tribute, in sitting down, to one who happened to be a connection of my own, the late Mr. Corrie Grant, who died a few days ago, who was one of the pro moters of this allotment movement. He 2681 and Lord Lincolnshire devoted most of their time for many years to the promotion of this allotment movement. Though the House may think it possibly an over-personal matter, I do not like this Bill to go through without mentioning the fact that the late Member for Rugby devoted a great part of his life to the promotion of this movement. I am sure the House will not mind me mentioning that fact. I hope the House will unanimously give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
I hope the House will continue to extend the great measure of generous tolerance to a maiden speech which it has done in the past. This is my initial attempt, and I have the greatest pleasure in making it for this Bill, because I have been a keen gardener all my life, and anything which will tend to increase the number of gardeners is, I think, sure to be a sound proposition. This question of increasing the number of people who are going to engage in cultivating the soil has a very great importance from the point of view of its educational side. I think the whole question of the cultivation of the soil ought not to be divided into farming and small holdings and allotments. They ought to be all considered part of a great industry. I feel quite sure that we should get a far more sympathetic and intelligent consideration for the problems of the whole industry if more and more people were to take part in it, even in this smaller portion of it. It is often said that the townsman is not sympathetic or intelligent when he considers the problems of this industry, and I think it is said with justice. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken alluded to the fact that this Debate has only succeeded in attracting a very few Members to attend it. I honestly think when more are here, they are not often as sympathetic and intelligent as they might be. I cannot help saying that because, as a farmer, while I listened to the Debate on the Sugar Beet Bill the other night with great interest, a statement was made by an hon. Member which struck me as showing a great want of appreciation of the position of the farmer and the crop that he grows. When the question of the bounty which was to be given for growing sugar beet was being debated, an hon. 2682 Member said, in comparing it with that offered by the Conservative Government, of £ 1 an acre for each acre of arable land—that £ 24 an acre was a very high subsidy to grant, and suggested that thereby the farmer would have a very large sum given him under the Sugar Beet Bill. Had that hon. Member been an allotment holder, he would have learned, I am quite sure, that there is such a thing as the rotation of crops, that the ordinary farmer with an arable farm sows only a quarter of it with his roots, and that probably only about a tenth part of that area would be given to sugar beet. Therefore, this subsidy, which sounds so large, would in fact be very much less than the £ l an acre which was offered by the Conservative party to the farmer.
The whole of this problem of the allotment holder forms part of a very fine educative system. In the county where I live we have already a very good organisation of gardens for our elementary schools. That might be reasonably said to be the start of the education system. Then come the allotments, then the medium sized, and finally the big farms. The more people who can be persuaded to start in a modest way, and gradually make their way up to holding a farm, the better for the community as far as regards the production of wealth, and also for the reasonable and intelligent considerations of the problem which affect agriculture. Many other points which I had intended to mention in support of the Bill have been said so much better by other hon. Gentlemen that I will content myself by simply registering my great approval of the Measure and by expressing the hope that it may soon pass into law.
§ Mr. RILEY
As some 20 years ago I was associated with the organisation of the agricultural industry and took some part in the struggle to secure allotments, possibly I may be able to say one or two useful things on this matter. One hon. Member mentioned as one of the reasons for the extension of allotments that the possession of an allotment tends to make people content and to disperse discontent. I am not going to traverse that opinion, but I do not perhaps think that 2683 this is the most valuable effect of the possession of an allotment. I value the allotment extension from the point of view not only of contributing to the general wellbeing of the country, but even more because it tends to give a certain independence, and self-respect and manliness to the working man who is, to the extent of the capacity of the allotment, not entirely dependent upon somebody else to employ him.
I recall vividly an experience which came under my notice many years ago as an organiser of labour, in those halycon days before the War when the wages of agricultural labourers were often 2s. per day in the Midland counties. In an agricultural parish in Warwickshire I found that, for a very special reason, practically every labourer was able to take possession of an allotment. Most of them got an acre and many of them got as much as two acres. In the surrounding parishes the wage at that time—I speak now of the middle of the 'nineties, about 1895—were 2s. per day for agricultural labourers. But I found that in this parish no labourer went out to work for a farmer under 2s. 6d. I asked, how did they get the 2s. 6d. and they said, "The reason is obvious: We do not work for farmers unless we can get at least 2s. 11d. We work for ourselves."
That is one of the positive advantages of the extension of the allotments movement. It gives to the labourer both in town and country a better chance to fight for a. decent standard of living than he can have if there is no kind of land to fall back upon to provide at least some part of his living. That, I think, is also a substantial advantage in the promotion of allotments. Members of all parties in this House to-day have agreed as to the importance of providing extended facilities. We are all agreed that the more we can get increasing numbers to be attached to the land the better it would be for the country, and, if the party on the benches opposite in years gone by had given effect to that opinion to a greater extent than they did, the countryside would not have been as depopulated as it is to-day, and tens of thousands of agricultural workers, who have come from the villages into the towns during the last 50 years, might have remained in the 2684 country and their descendants would be there working in the countryside and the villages would be prosperous. But it is because the view which we have heard expressed to-day was not carried into effect, and no facilities were given to work the land that the country very largely is left in the position in which it is.
The hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby) referred to the tremendous difficulty in rural districts in past times in getting any allotments at all. I saw that difficulty at close quarters from the passing of the Parish Councils Act, 1894, and I recall how, under that great Liberal charter as it was called, under which every labourer was going to have a right to land—he could have 10 acres by agreement but not less than one acre by compulsion—the agricultural workers were deceived, because, as has been pointed out this morning, under existing legislation for providing allotments on the rural side, unless you get the goodwill of the landowners—I am not saying that there are not many landowners with goodwill, but my experience is that there are many who have no goodwill, who have been standing out for their full pound of flesh—when the parish councils go cap in hand to the allotment committee of the County Council, the County Council, being composed, particularly in years past, almost exclusively of farmers, landowners or stewards, they are not given power to get by compulsion what they could not get by agreement with the local landowner. The Act says:If the County Council think fit to hold an inquiry "—but there is nothing in the Act to provide that an inquiry must be held unless they see fit. The result is, as has been pointed out, that we have the astonishing fact that many agricultural parishes are still without allotments. I am gratified to find that some advance has been made on that point, and that to-day we are getting a consensus of opinion with regard to the extension of facilities for allotments. With regard to the urban aspect of the matter I appreciate very much, as I am sure we all do, the provisions of this Bill which are now going to make it obligatory upon the urban authorities where allotments exist, and when there is need to interfere with those allotments, to provide equivalent accommodation for the allotment holders. That 2685 is all to the good. I agree with the provision whereby local authorities shall have power to spend up to a penny rate in assisting in the development of allotments. But there is one aspect of this Bill which I view with very great concern, and that is the part which is designed to encourage the general purchase of land for allotments in urban areas. We all know that land in urban areas, which is as a general rule conveniently situated for allotment purposes, is land which has a high building value. I can foresee great dangers to local associations of allotment holders when they want to enter into financial arrangements for the purchase of land from urban landowners. I hope that, whether it be the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Health which has to do with the administration of these financial arrangements, it will exercise a very wise restraint upon the demands of local societies for the purchase of land. I would far rather see powers given for the compulsory hiring of land, leaving out the question of purchase altogether. Apart from those objections I very heartily welcome the Bill.
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
The merit or this Bill is that it will facilitate access to the land. I welcome what was said by the ex-Solicitor-General in support of that proposal. That is part of the policy which we on these benches have pursued, and will always pursue. My only regret is that it has been impossible in this Bill, to which my name is attached, to provide for some method, not only of occupation, but also of ownership. I listened very carefully to what was said by the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby). It is true to some extent that the progress of compulsory acquisition by county councils on behalf of parish councils is a little cumbersome. But the hon. Member omitted to state that under the Acquisition of Land Act a very great weapon is put into the hands of every local authority in dealing with any private individual. My experience has been that the scales are not unevenly balanced, so far as the private persons whose land is to be compulsorily acquired are concerned. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the public provision, or the provision by local authorities, of allotments does lead to the allotment holders having to pay higher rents than 2686 those which are paid where such allotments are provided by private landowners. Under this Bill, although there is a considerable advantage given to the allotment holder by the provision of compensation on almost all occasions when he gives up his allotment, in my opinion the chief value of the Bill lies in the provisions of Clause 2. That Clause enables the Public Works Loans Commissioners to lend money on mortgage on land provided for allotments by every approved society.
I am absolutely convinced from experience that the cheapest way of providing allotments will be by the approved societies, or by private owners, but the trouble that I foresee is that the Public Works Loans Commissioners consist of three gentlemen sitting in some office in the City of London, without the control of this House or of anyone else, and that there is no means in this Bill—and no method of providing it—for making these three gentlemen either sympathetic to the objects of the Bill, ready to extend encouragement, and to make it easy for land to be provided, or to do anything to cheapen the cost of land, with a view to facilitating the working of the Bill. I had some dealings with the Public Works Loans Commissioners, under the Act that we passed to provide moneys on land for those farmers who bought their farms when the Corn Production Act was in operation. They were extremely difficult gentlemen to deal with, and they fixed a rate of interest which to my mind was higher than was necessary, and I am very much afraid that Clause 2, unless we can improve it in Committee, will not result in the great use of the provision that is desired. I hope that when the Committee gets to work, those who serve on it will use their brains in devising some means of putting pressure on the Public Works Loans Commissioners and on the Treasury. It is desirable that the Minister of Agriculture should be associated in some way in arranging the terms and regulations under which these advances are made. His Department should consider whether it cannot devise some Amendment of Clause 2 which would enable the Department, in consultation with the Public Works Loans Commissioners or with the Treasury, to lay down a principle which will encourage the advance of the money and the carrying out 2687 of the objects of the Bill. If that is done, I am certain that the Bill will lead to a very large increase in the number of allotments all over the country, in both urban and rural districts—a result which I gather that everyone in the House has at heart.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I want to say a word or two which may seem to indicate that I am taking an unpopular line. So far as the Debate has gone on all sides, there has been general support of the Bill. I do not support the Bill, because I do not support the principle upon which it is based I listened with great interest to the speech of the Ex-Solicitor-General. He said that getting people back to the land by supporting the provision of financial aid for allotments would lead to a larger and fuller life in the country. That statement was made immediately after a statement by a member of the Liberal party to the effect that the great advantage of allotments was that they made people contented by giving them the chance of working hard every moment of their spare time. There are different kinds of contentment and I imagine the contentment which Liberal and Conservative Members believe in for the common people is what is known as the bovine kind. I do not want that kind of contentment and I do not think it is desirable that the spare time of the working-folk of this country should be spent in cultivating little patches of ground some miles from where they live and work. I do not think that is a progressive policy. It is entirely and flagrantly a reactionary policy.
In a discussion on agriculture some time ago we were told by hon. Members representing the farmers' interest that agriculture does not pay. It is an exceedingly remarkable thing that farming does not pay and yet hon. Members or. both sides of the House tell us that allotments—surely the most unscientific way of cultivating the soil—do pay and would be of great economic, value. The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) said this would be a part solution of the poverty problem and the unemployment. For the life of me I cannot understand how the fact of urban industrial workers who are carrying out their ordinary occupational function in 2688 life for eight or more hours every day going on to the land in their spare time to cultivate it, to grow foodstuffs and, presumably, to market them, is going to help the solution of these problems. I do not believe that providing two jobs for one man is the way to solve the unemployment problem and so far as the general problem of poverty is concerned, you will have to do a great deal more in the way of reorganisation and scientific adjustment before you even approach a solution of that problem.
Why should the question of agriculture be considered in a different aspect from that in which we consider questions of industrial production? If I spoke for that school of thought which Mr. G. K. Chesterton represents the medieval school—and preached the idea of getting back to earlier forms of handicraft; if I were to suggest it would be economically advantageous to this country, instead of depending upon coal and electrical power and machine production, to go back to the period when the Lancashire weaver worked in his own home, with the aid of his own family, produced his cloth upon a primitive machine, and went out into the market himself to sell his product—that doctrine would be recognised at once as economically reactionary. I suggest that the idea of solving the agricultural problem by the niggling method of getting people to work hard in their spare time on little plots of ground, is equivalent to the proposal that we should go back to the conditions of the domestic industries period in the 16th and 17th centuries That is not the way in which the problem can be solved. I know that the industrial system is top-heavy. We want more organisation of agriculture, we want more agricultural production and, in view of diminishing foreign markets, it would be a great thing if we could bring back into cultivation the land which has gone out of cultivation and make ourselves to a larger extent—as we could—self-sacrificing and independent of the fluctuations of foreign trade. That would be a desirable thing, but the way to bring it about is to regard the whole problem of agriculture as a national problem.
If working people are pleased to cultivate gardens as a hobby that is another matter, but to consider the idea of getting working people to use their spare time in this way as an economic proposi- 2689 tion, as something which will solve the agricultural, the unemployment, and the poverty problems, is wide of the mark. It may be true that small cultivation in present circumstances will pay. It pays just in the same way as does the venture of a poor devil of a workman who manages to save a few pounds and buys a decrepit kind of a business in a side street in a slum and opens a small shop where everything is sold from toffee-apples to mouse-traps. I know the kind of life such people live when they become what is called "independent and self-respecting," and it is simply a dog'3 life. I know from practical experience what it means, and it is precisely on a par with the idea that people should spend their spare time on allotments in order to make themselves independent, self-respecting, and contented. I do not want anything of the kind, and though I am probably the only Member who will express these ideas, in view of the general support which has been given to this Bill, I think they are ideas which call for expression on this occasion. We want scientific organisation of agriculture in this country and mass production on the highest scientific principles, and only in that way shall we be able to restore agriculture to its old pre-eminence. With regard to the financial provisions, it seems to me that one of the great objects of a Bill of this character is to enable landlords to get a better price for their land by selling it in small allotments, and for that reason I have a considerable objection to the principle of the Bill. I do not believe in dividing land into little pieces, and I do not believe that people will gain in self-respect by having the land divided up in this way, and I am sure hon. Members opposite are not prepared to have the land divided up. The idea of providing a few belts of allotments to keep people contented is very satisfactory, but if one proposed to deal with the land of this country on scientific principle, we should find hon. Members opposite bitterly opposed to any such proposal from these benches. I feel bound to give expression to these views and I am sorry I am isolated in expressing them.
§ Mr. GEOFFREY PETO
The speech to which we have just listened serves to show what extreme antagonisms of view are represented on the benches opposite and one cannot help feeling a certain sympathy for the leaders who have to try 2690 to reconcile such great differences. I cannot agree that contentment is bovine. There are hosts of contented people and there are contented animals in this world other than cows, and I trust this House will do its utmost to spread content and not discontent throughout the country. I know it is very galling to an hon. Member opposite if he wants to have a meeting at the street corner, and to make some inflammatory remarks, to find that his audience has melted away to cultivate their plots and spend a peaceful evening, for their own great benefit and for the benefit of their health and pockets. The hon. Member said that because agriculture, he had heard, did not pay, small holdings would not pay; but it makes a tremendous difference if you are producing food that you intend to consume yourself, and there must be a greater economy in that than in buying through second or third parties. He seemed to think there was some measure of compulsion in this Bill, but no one will compel anybody, a labourer or anybody else, to buy or to work an allotment under this Bill. He will do it if he wishes to, but the object of the Bill is only to give him the opportunity, and where any compulsion or tyranny comes in is quite beyond my comprehension.
Other hon. Members of the Labour and Liberal parties have taken rather a different line. I think I must congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), who introduced this Bill, on having introduced a Measure which, apparently, the Labour party, in their 10 months of office, and the Liberal party, in their 10 years of office, were longing to introduce, but, unfortunately, did not do so. I gather that, if they had introduced such a Measure, it would have been vastly greater, a most all-embracing work, which it would be quite impossible for my hon. and gallant Friend to have introduced to-day as a private Member. In introducing the Bill, he made one remark to the effect that it was impossible to set back the clock. I need not remind the House that that is what we did only a week ago, and it is in connection with Summer Time that, I think, this Bill has a very special value. Without Summer Time it is difficult to work an allotment, and undoubtedly the possession of an allotment adds very greatly to the value of Summer 2691 Time. The hon. and learned Gentleman the late Solicitor-General (Sir H. Slesser) alluded to unemployment. I think a good deal can be done, and I should like to see it done, not to remove unemployment, but to alleviate the burden of unemployment, by encouraging people to use the land for the purpose for which nature made it, which is cultivation, rather than constructing those enormous roads out of London and other parts of the country. I would much rather see these men get work in cultivating the land on allotments. In my own constituency, an experiment on a small scale, by private enterprise, has been started and has indeed been going some months, with very successful results and with satisfaction to the unemployed.
Clause 2 of the Bill, I think, ought to attract all parties. It extends the ownership of land, and we are anxious to extend the ownership of land to as wide a circle as possible. It contains a certain system of co-operative purchase, which ought to appeal to the Labour party, and, with regard to the Liberal party, I cannot speak with any confidence about their land policy, but if they study Clause 2, I hope they will find some traces of the policy, which they discuss so heatedly at their various revival meetings. Clause 3 is a clause which most attracts me, because, it provides compulsorily for allotments in all town-planning schemes, and I think this is most valuable. It means that in years to come, when the Ministry of Transport and motorists have had their way, and when this country is completely crusted and hermetically sealed with concrete, and we have concrete posts and wire rails round the edges to prevent chars-á -banc falling into the sea, these allotments will be oases in the desert. Future generations will arise and bless the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford. They will erect statues to him all over the country, with a spade in one hand and a giant marrow in the other. I should like to quote a remark of the Dean of St. Paul's, which, I think, is very appropriate to this Bill.If it is progress to turn the fields and woods of Essex into Bast and West Ham, we may be thankful that progress is a sporadic and transient phenomenon in history.Yet the hon. Member who last spoke objected to this Bill. We are anxious to 2692 see more open spaces provided round the towns and in the towns, and we want to see, as is provided in this Bill, all town-planning schemes contain provisions for allotments, which, remember, will be permanent. That is to say, if they are taken away, they must be replaced with similar plots. I think that will go a certain distance towards preventing the fields and woods of Essex developing into East and West Ham. Consider the small cultivator in France, and think what splendid vegetables he grows, and how admirably his wife cooks them. A good deal more could be done in that direction in this country, which would also improve the health and happiness of our people. I think that every hon. Member, with one exception possibly, will welcome this Bill, and I hope they will give it a speedy and safe passage.
§ Major CRAWFURD
I would like to make one remark in reply to the retrospective criticisms of the party which I represent made by the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. G. Peto). Like many other hon. members in this House, he sharpens his wit at the expense of my party, and I think indeed it is a poor party that cannot join in a laugh at its own expense, but, in the interests of historical accuracy, which I am sure the hon. and gallant Member has at heart, while he invites our attention to Clauses 2 and 3 of this Bill, I would in turn—I think he has a copy in his hand—invite his attention to Clause 11, where he will find a reference to the provisions of the Small Holdings and Allotments Acts, 1908 to 1919, so that as long ago as 1908 there was a Small Holdings and Allotments Act. If my hon. and gallant Friend's memory carries him back as far as that, he will know which party was in power in 1908. I give him the point at once that no doubt the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, was not the last word in such Acts, but, as we have heard this morning, neither is this, although I and those who think with me welcome this Bill very heartily.
My second point is to make a protest against the speech, and to remove the impression created in that speech, of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). I want to be quite serious about this, because I represent a constituency very similar in character to that which he represents, and I want to say that there is nothing that I have 2693 discovered more genuine, more deep-seated, more universal than the desire of people in that constituency to have and to hold allotments. It seemed to me, coming back after the years of war, one of the most remarkable things that had happened in this country to see the enormous extension of this allotment movement. Although a great many people thought that this was one of the transient things of the War, it has been even more remarkable to me to see how people have clung passionately to the allotments which they obtained then. So far from resenting being called upon to cultivate allotments, after their eight or more hours' work, it is, as I say, one of the deep-rooted passions of their life, now that they have got their allotments, to keep them, and to cultivate them.
It seems to me, too, an unfortunate thing that from a representative of any party in this House there should be anything like a covert sneer at contentment and independence. Surely those are things we ought to cultivate. Surely we want people to be contented, and there is not the slightest doubt that the cultivation of allotments is helping men to independence. But it does a great deal more. It does a great deal for the social life of the community. Go to the wives of the men who cultivate allotments, and ask them what they think about it. There is no doubt that allotments have been one of the most successful competitors the public-house has ever had. The good done in that way is enormous. I have tried to rebut the contention that contentment is a thing we ought to avoid, and independence a thing we ought to depreciate: and if I may, after these rambling remarks, come to the Bill itself, I would ask those who promote it, when it goes to Committee, whether they could not reconsider Clause 8, and see if more complete compensation could be given to those who are dispossessed, for one reason or another, from their allotments, and that the compensation given should cover all the capital sunk in the allotment.
§ Mr. SMITH-CARINGTON
It is a very great gratification to me, as one supporting this Bill, to find such a large measure of agreement with regard both to the Bill itself and to the value and possibilities of allotments. We all realise how much the allotment movement has meant, and how much more it could 2694 mean in the way of food production. We appreciate it as a healthy recreation, good for the body, soul and pocket of those who become allotment holders. But I am particularly interested in allotments, representing as I do a rural constituency, from the point of view of the fact that they provide a bridge over that gulf of divided outlook, which town and country workers so often possess. A good deal of interest and understanding, I believe, exists between all who have anything to do with the cultivation of the soil, and I welcome very much the opportunity that as many as possible in our urban districts should take that interest in the soil, because, however small the scale of their operations, it puts them in a better position to understand the difficulties under which the countryside has to labour. There are those difficulties in the changes and chances of the weather. They get to know from experience how just one night of severe frost in May, may damage the whole outlook for their season; or, again, a severe frost later in the season, we will say in early September, casts a blight upon the whole of their season's work. This experience that allotment holders get—and I have only drawn attention to one of their more unfortunate experiences—will, I think, quicken their appreciation of the difficulties of the farming population.
Mention has been made of the large number of allotments that have been in existence at various times. Although the movement started some 40 years ago, I believe that bare statistics hardly do justice to the value of the allotment movement, because, I think, the very much more generous and spacious outlook that was taken in regard to the provision of cottage gardens has had its origin in many cases in the allotment movement. I think, too, that had we had, before the War, the practice of putting the clock back, and adopting summer time, we should have found that progress, even before the War, would have been much more rapid than it was. We had during the War period a very large number of allotments started, and many of them were started on recreation grounds, in parks and on sites that were already, or would have been in normal circumstances, ripe for building. The necessity of the case meant that these 2695 allotment holders had to be dispossessed, and I can picture nothing more heartbreaking than it was to many of those who had started allotments from a sense of duty, and came to like them, to be dispossessed on account of the necessities of a more dominant kind.
This Bill seeks, in a measure, to correct that difficulty, and we strive to give a little more security of tenure. It is impossible, in the nature of things, to give complete security of tenure, because as developments advance, as towns grow, as necessities arise, it may always be necessary to dispossess any one given plot of allotments for the sake of a greater necessity; but where that is done, then this Bill, though it is of a permissive character, endeavours to do something to reinstate those allotment holders in as convenient an alternative position as possible. We have in the existing Acts various Measures with regard to compensation. They are not very generous Measures. They aim rather at securing for the allotment holder the fruit of his work for that particular season, and the compensation comes into force rather in the case of displacement after Lady Day, and before Michaelmas, than it does in the other half of the year. But I do submit that compensation, although it is just, and although it removes any sense of wrong, is not the real end in itself. The real end should be to try to continue these allotment holders in possession, either in their present allotment or, if that is not possible, in an alternative one which will suit them as nearly as possible. I commend this Bill. It is of a tentative and permissive kind, but it does give powers which I think the local authorities in many cases will be glad to avail themselves of to meet the difficulty which they feel in their own locality.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MARCH
I desire to say a few words in support of this Bill, perhaps upon different grounds to those which some of the other speakers have given. I happen to be a country-born lad, and I know that at the present time, and for years, the cottage garden has been going out of existence. As we see houses being built in the rural areas there is one very little garden provided with them. That is different from what it used to be when I was a boy in the country. It was then no uncommon thing for the agricultural 2696 labourer to have at least a quarter of an acre of ground at the back of his house. That state of things does not exist to-day, and has not done for some years. Therefore, it becomes necessary that there should be an opportunity for the labourer to be able to get hold of a small allotment. He will then be able to cultivate that land and so get food for himself and family. That would be one thing to help towards the relief of poverty. I also think that if this movement were extended, if the allotments did not immediately assist in helping unemployment, they would help towards keeping those who are in the country there, instead of them coming to congest the urban areas and the towns, about which we have heard so much complaint. So it would assist in keeping men in employment, if it did not do something to relieve the unemployment congestion at the moment. I should like my hon. friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) just to look outside London a little way. If he will look out so far as Dagenham and Becontree Heath he will find that the men who are being moved out of London into that area are very desirous of making use, as far as possible, of the little piece of land which the County Council have allotted them at the back of their cottages. That is not sufficient for them. There are very many applications for small allotments, for the men want to grow their own vegetables. They have found a difficulty in getting vegetables otherwise. Many of them are carrying them home from Poplar and' Canning Town by omnibus, but they would prefer to grow them if they had the opportunity. Then an enterprising parish council, which I hope we are going to have very shortly, would help and be a little bit different from what they have had Some of these people who are moving down there will probably get on the parish and local councils, and bring them up a little bit so that (hey may provide allotments for the people who desire to have them. As this Bill stands there is no compulsion about any person having a piece of land. I think those who do desire to have an allotment ought to have the chance of getting it. I also say that they ought to have the chance of getting it at a reasonable price. That point I am very much up against. I really cannot 2697 understand how it is that land can be let to a farmer by the landlord at £ l per acre for his cultivation, and that when it comes to be a piece parcelled out to allotment holders, that the allotment holder has to pay £ 6 per acre for it. It is beyond my comprehension. I think it is time we had a change. There ought to be something in this Bill to prevent that kind of thing happening. If it is good for the farmer who cannot make things pay at £ l per acre, how is it going to be a good thing for the allotment holder to pay £ 6 an acre and make it pay? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is all very well for the farmers' representatives on the other side of the House to smile. They can afford to smile at the labours of these allotment holders. The kind of thing I have been speaking about is going to be changed, no doubt it will be later. The Bill will assist considerably in keeping the country people in their place on the land. They know more of the working of the land than Londoners do, and if they get the facilities I hope they will embrace them and do good with them.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
I rise to speak in absolute support of the Bill. After the very clear statement made in regard to the principle and various Clauses of the Bill by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir I). Newton) it is unnecessary for me to go into the points. Besides I do not wish to waste the time of the House in doing so. The object of this Bill to my mind is very simple and clear. It is to give to working men and labouring people in the country the opportunity to acquire a certain piece of land there. There has been in this House an almost unanimous assent on the principle. There was one dissentient—the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague)—who endeavoured to prove that though the smallholder can spend his spare time in cultivating the land that the smallholder would then be doing an additional amount of work. I want to put it to him that if he went into the districts where the smallholders are cultivating their own land in the evening instead of spending their spare time smoking, he would realise that the cultivation of the small holding was as enjoyable as—
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
The hon. Member would not suggest that when his lady friends spend their time in knitting jumpers they are not enjoying themselves. So it is with the smallholder. He enjoys the cultivation of the land. These Friday afternoon Debates have always interested me for this one particular reason, that Members on this side and Members on that side of the House are able to join together. We are no longer Members of the Opposition, or Members of the Government party. These Debates on a Friday afternoon allow us the opportunity to appreciate that those sitting opposite to us are, in very many cases, jolly good fellows, and I hope our friends sitting opposite think a little better of some of us on these benches. In ordinary weekday Debates Members sitting opposite have assumed that we on this side are the representatives of the capitalist system, and will not, in any case, do anything for the good of the working men. They have assumed that we who represent agricultural constituencies are representing the capitalist class in agriculture, representing the landlord's interest and the interest of the farmers, and so on. Is that true? Will hon. Gentlemen put aside their political opinions and, on this Friday afternoon, ask themselves whether that is true?
We on this side of the House are backing this Bill, and speaking in favour of it, and it is a Bill that is against, positively against the capitalistic interest, against the interest of the landlord, against the interest of the farmer. It is a Bill brought in with the one object of helping the working men, and I hope Members opposite will give us, on this side of the House, credit for the desire to do cur utmost to help our fellow working men. I support this Bill, but I support it only as a step—a step in the right direction—towards giving greater facilities for the people of this country to acquire the land of the country. It is an incentive to the people to apply their best energies to what is a laudable ambition with them—for it is the great ambition of the working men of the country to acquire a certain amount of land, either as an allotment or as a small, or a larger, holding. I am prepared to support any Measure that will give them facilities for 2699 acquiring land, whether as small holdings, or allotments, or even cottage holdings. I will go further; my idea is that there should be opportunities for working men in agricultural districts, not only to acquire the occupation of a small holding and cottage, but to acquire the ownership of shall holdings, together with the ownership of a cottage situated on that small holding.
It has been suggested in this House that the cultivation of a small holding may not be profitable, but I know that in many districts the cultivation of an allotment or a small holding is profitable as well as pleasurable. Only two days ago we passed a Bill called the British Sugar (Subsidy) Bill. I have spent many years of my life devoting every possible moment to forwarding the interests of the sugar beet industry in this country in order to secure the manufacture of sugar in this country. I took no part in the Debates on the financial resolution, nor in the Debates in this House last week, for the simple reason that my experience has been that if you want to see a, Bill passed through the House of Commons, the less you say about it the better. But I listened to those Debates, and I found that one of the objections of Members opposite was that though the manufacturers will participate largely in the benefits under the Bill, and though the farmers were mentioned as benefiting under the Bill, yet nowhere was anything done for the benefit of the labourers. I am glad to say that objection was removed by the right hon. Member the Minister for Agriculture. I would like to tell hon. Members opposite that through this Bill the labouring men of the country have an opportunity of participating in that sugar-beet subsidy. To an allotment holder, or a smallholder of one, five or 20 acres, no crop is going to be so profitable as sugar beet.
I have no desire to waste the time of the House. I desire to see this Bill passed, and for the same reason that I did not waste time during the sugar-beet discussions I do not want to waste time now. I want to see the Bill passed, and I appeal to hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House to put aside any political objections they may have to supporting Measures on this side, so that we may both work together for the good of the 2700 working people and enable them to acquire land which they so badly need for allotments.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Until the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) made an intervention in the Debate, I had hoped I was going to have the pleasure of alleging that I alone, of all the Members who have taken part in the Debate to-day, had cultivated an allotment. I have double dug and double trenched, and in common, I believe, with most people who have cultivated an allotment, I soon came to the conclusion that the best way to do it was by first cultivating a large family to do it for one. We are bound to look at this problem as a far bigger one than providing a pleasant form of occupation for people who like it.
We are faced to-day in this country with unexampled unemployment, and if the provision of allotments is going to find us a way out of that difficulty to any extent whatever, we are bound, as a responsible House of Commons, to look into the question and see how far we can assist the allotment movement. Many people say there are only 1,200,000 allotmenteers in this country, and that if we increased that number by 10 per cent. it would not make much difference, that it does not really touch the problem of unemployment. I differ from them to a certain extent. Every unemployed man who occupies a piece of land to cultivate it for himself not merely finds work for himself, but finds work for a number of people in every other trade. Every unemployed man who is absorbed in useful, productive work collects employment like a snowball—employs people in making agricultural tools, in making furniture, in making houses, in satisfying his wants, and in completing the processes of manufacture and distribution which he begins. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we should realise the importance of giving everybody—at least, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Poplar (Mr. March) said, everybody who wants it—the opportunity of cultivating a piece of land.
Not so long ago I was in Hungary at the time of the Soviet rule. They were faced with an unemployed problem in Budapest far worse than the unemployed problem that faces us. There were over a million people unemployed in Budapest. The Soviet Government on the eve 2701 of their fall were preparing to issue out to everyone of those unemployed a small allotment amounting to half an acre in the suburbs of Budapest. This was done to give them the chance of producing something, and I cannot help thinking that we are gradually being forced into the same position. The opportunity for production is there—the land and the labour are there, and how long are we to be kept back by this purely artificial obstruction called private ownership of land. The same problem faced the Dutch in South Africa, and, as poor whites accumulated, President Kruger gave them all burgher-right plots up to two acres.
Let us look at this Bill from that point of view. What' does it do to make it easier for the allotment holder or the prospective allotment holder to get land ' The Minister for Agriculture has made it quite clear that 60 per cent. of the allotments are supplied by private landlords. The problem as to more than half is, therefore, a question which involves inducing private landlords to allow farm workers and town workers to get land to cultivate for allotments for intensive cultivation. I asked the Minister whether these private landlords who are bound at the present time to play so large a part in this question gave the same terms to the man who wanted an allotment to cultivate, as to the man who wants a large farm to cultivate, and he said he could not give me any information as to the rents charged per acre for the small man as compared with the rents charged to the larger holder.
Fortunately, we had given us by the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton-Brown) more precise figures, and he told us that he was letting land to large farmers at £ l per acre, including not only the land but the farmhouse, and he was letting land to allotment holders for 9d. a rod. I have been refreshing my memory, and I have discovered that there are 160 rods to the acre, and at 9d. a rod that is equivalent to £ 6 per acre, so that for the small man you are asking £ 6 per acre, whilst you are charging the large man £ l per acre. It must be remembered also that in the case of the land let to the large farmer the rent charged covers the liability for repairs, and a house in addition to the land, whereas the land let to the allotment holder involves no liability for 2702 repairs and there is no house upon it, and yet it is charged at the rate of £ 6 per acre.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
There is a possibility that the size of a rod varies in different parts of the country. I do not know the size of the rod to which the hon. and gallant Member refers.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
What I want to point out is that the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury, who is by no means a bad landlord, did not realise that he was letting land at six times more to the allotment holder than to the farmer, largely because it is so much a matter of custom to charge a higher rent to the smallholder. I do not say that 9d. per rod is excessive. I know that in my own constituency we pay as much as £ 10 per acre, and the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury is moderate compared with the average landlord, and yet he is putting six times as many obstacles in the way of these men who want small holdings as in the case of the larger farmers. I also wish to point out that just as you increase the rents of these allotments so the rates go up, in proportion, and if land is rented at £ 6 per acre to an allotment holder it means that the rates also are six times heavier on that land than they are on the land of the big farmer adjoining whose land is only charged at £ 1 per acre. You are not only increasing the rent but the rates as well, and then you express surprise that agricultural labourers do not look upon hon. Gentlemen opposite as their friends when they see on one side of the hedge land let at £ l per acre and on the other side it is let at £ 6 per acre. We want allotment holders to be able to get land on the same terms as the big farmer gets it. I think if we are going to solve this problem of obtaining land for those who want it we must persuade, not the Minister of Agriculture to give us special legislation, but persuade hon. and gallant Members on the back benches opposite to really do what they and we know to be the right thing.
What is the real reason why hon Members opposite who own land do not like to let the allotment holder have it at a rent equivalent to the rate charged to the large farmers? It is largely a question of their agents, who do not like to collect small rentals, and they prefer 2703 large farms. They prefer to consider the interests of sport. For this purpose it is better for them to have large farms than small allotments scattered all over the place. The most potent influence against letting these allotments at legitimate rents is that every one of the big farmers dislike instinctively the idea of their labourers Having allotments of their own.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
That is not so, because the most efficient man employed by a farmer is generally the man who spends his spare time in cultivating an allotment instead of spending his time in a public-house.-
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
If that be so, I would like to know why, in those agricultural parishes where the council is dominated by the farmers, it is precisely in those parishes that the difficulty occurs of getting these allotments for the farm labourer. I believe myself that it is the best possible thing that could happen, not merely for the production of the country but for the farm worker himself. If he gets an allotment, it not only gives him an additional source of income, which is not to be neglected, but infinitely more important, it gives him a sense of manhood and a capacity for standing up to his employer. If those agricultural labourers in Norfolk had had an acre or half-an-acre of land each at the. time of the great agricultural strike, they would have been able to resist the pressure of the farmers in an infinitely better way. My ideal—if it be possible for a man to have an ideal after 20 years in this House—is a country populated by an independent people able to stand up for their rights, able to answer back and able to bargain with their employers on equal terms. So far, therefore, as the general problem of allotments is concerned, 60 per cent. at the present time are let by private landlords, and for any amelioration in regard to them you have to get the landlords to make a move. I hope that we shall make a move in this direction. I believe that we could get a big agitation in favour of this movement for giving land to the farm labourers. If allotments can be made popular with the farmers, we can get a very great amount of pressure from the public behind.
2704 How does this Bill help the agricultural labourer to get land? How does it help the town worker to set land? There are three parts of this Bill. The first part is to give to any association acquiring land for small holdings a large part of the price that they are to pay for the land. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite must know that the effect of that is not to make it cheap for the worker to get the land, but to increase the price that the man who has got the land is able to secure by selling. Hon. Members opposite have said all along that the subsidy for houses goes into the pockets of the building trade and the land speculators and does not actually make the house any cheaper It is exactly the same with land. If you go to a local authority and say, "If you will buy land, we will pay half the cost," the natural and immediate result must be that they are prepared to pay a bigger price. Therefore, the first part of this Bill in assisting the purchase of land really assists a higher price to be paid for the land, and that means a higher rent paid by the allotment holder, and greater difficulties in the way of getting allotments, and a higher charge for the non-productive feature of paying rent. The town allotment holder is to be assisted in getting his allotment by directing, not compelling, local municipal authorities, in laying out a town-planning scheme, to allocate part of the area laid out for allotments. That is probably the best part of the Bill. But how can you be certain that it will be operated to any large extent? We would like to know. I would have liked to have heard how many municipalities and cities in this country have as yet got town-planning schemes. It is going very slowly I know, and we must not found too much on it. I do not suppose that one local authority out of a hundred in this country have adopted town-planning schemes so far. How are you going to solve the problem by dealing with such a few cases?
Again, observe the snag even in this Clause in the Bill. When a local authority lays out a town-planning scheme, allocating certain areas in their suburbs for certain purposes, either residential, or factories, or business premises, or allotments, they are forced to pay compensation to the owners of land for any inferior use to which they direct that the 2705 land should be put. If in making their plan they take land which might have a prospective value for business purposes and allocate it for allotments, they will thereby have to pay compensation to the landlord for the making of that plan That is going to be the most effective obstacle to getting any local authority to embody in their town-planning scheme this object which everybody in the House has in view, of getting allotments near the men who want them on easy terms. I do hope that hon. Members who are behind this Measure will look very carefully into the Town Planning and Housing Act, 1909. which started the town-planning scheme, and see whether they cannot embody in their Bill, as it goes through Committee, provisions which will prevent the claiming of compensation in cases where land is laid out for allotments, so that in the provision of these allotments they may not find an obstacle of which perhaps they were not aware.
There is another provision in the Bill which I welcome. It is a provision which directs local authorities, where there are more than a certain number of allotment holders in their area, to have a special allotments committee of the council. I think that that will be a good scheme in its way. But none of these Amendments really affect the issue as we see it. You have to get for the allotment holder three special things. First of all, you have to get him cheap land, not at £ 6 an acre, but at 15s. an acre. You have to get him land cheap, and you have to encourage him to improve that land by putting up a greenhouse and even by putting up his own house, whether it be steel or whatever it may be, without levying local rates upon those improvements. Then you have not only to get the land cheap, but you have to give him security of tenure. To my mind, one of the principal objections to this Measure is that you do not get security of tenure. You can only get security of tenure if the State owns these allotment lands and lets them year after year to the people who use them at a rent measured by the value of the land and not by the use to which he puts it. There you get the real security of tenure. This Bill does not move or moves hardly at all in that direction. Then, in addition, you have to see that the allotment holder has the opportunity of getting a certain amount of credit in order that he 2706 may start his operations. People talk about these allotments as though it were a question of a rod or half-an-acre, but an allotment may run up to live acres. The definition varies but it is anything up to five acres. If you can get, either by means of your association or otherwise, credit advanced not only to the town worker but also to the farm worker to start his allotment you will be doing something which will enable the small man to start on the land. I should hope that the next stage forward in this question of allotments will involve, in the first place, enabling the State or the local authorities—it does not matter which—to acquire land for allotments at a valuation rate, at the selling value of the property, and that valuation must be determined by a general valuation throughout the country. At the present time, the whole system of acquiring land under these Allotments and Small Holdings Acts works back to the Land Clauses Consolidation Act, 1846, and it inevitably bleeds the person or authority that wants to acquire land. Railway companies have been strangled by it; local authorities have been strangled by it; allotment holder's have been strangled by it. We have to get away from the idea that the man who purchases land ought to pay an exaggerated price for compulsory purchase. You have to get compulsory purchase in the hands of the local authorities at valuation prices, and then you will get your land cheap. You will get land for allotment holders at 15s. an acre instead of £ 6.
There are two ways of getting men and land together. You can either go to the landlord and bribe him with increased prices to loose his hold on the land, or you can impose taxation and rates upon him which will make him run after you, instead of your having to run after him. What we want is to get land as cheaply as possible, and the best way to do that is to make the landlord anxious to sell, and not the other man anxious to buy. If there were a greater desire on the part of the landlords of this country to get rid of their land, we should be able to help the unemployment problem considerably. I do not see why we should not start the employment of deserving persons on an entirely new plan. I would like to see commercial travellers employed by landlords to get rid of their 2707 land. It would be a healthy occupation. Why should we employ commercial travellers to get rid of our crockery, and landlords not employ commercial travellers to get rid of their land? Anyway, we want to increase their desire to get rid of their land. We want to knock the bottom out of the land market, and to get land as cheaply as possible for those who want to use it. When hon. Members opposite support this Bill, do not let us forget that it is a Bill which is apparently intended to help allotment holders, but which conceals within every Clause the desire to help qualified by the determination to preserve for those who have what they have got.
§ Mr. FORD
I think we have had the whole merits of the Bill put before us, and I hope that it will very soon go through, in spite of the suspicions which the right hon. Gentleman (Colonel Wedgwood) has just indicated. I only rise to define the attitude of a good many of the Scottish Members—not, I may say, confined to my own party. We see in this Bill a great deal that is good, and a great deal that we would like, so far as have not got it, to have in the interests of the allotment holders of Scotland. I merely rise, therefore, to say that I hope the House will give us this Bill, and we may either be able during the Committee stage, by means of an application Clause, to get its benefits for Scotland, or, as there is some difficulty in the drafting of such a Clause, owing to the fact that antecedent legislation is different in the two countries, and to the difficulties which arise from that, we might be able after Eleven o'clock to get a Bill introduced on similar lines applicable to Scotland. If the House has shown favour to the one, we hope it will show favour to the other. That is the view of a large number of the Scottish Members. I will not take up any more time, but will only urge the House, in my humble capacity, to give us this Bill without further delay.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.