HL Deb 04 June 1886 vol 306 cc999-1002

, in rising to call attention to the method adopted by Her Majesty's Government for obtaining a Return of allotments and cottage gardens, said, that since he had moved in their Lordships' House for this Return complaints had reached him from all quarters that the Return forms were being filled in and sent in to the Government in a very incomplete, inaccurate, and unsatisfactory state. He thought a good deal of that was owing to the fact that the parish overseers were expected to collect those Returns without any additional remuneration, and it could hardly be supposed that they would take any great pains with the work under those circumstances. He thought it was very important that the Return should be accurate in all respects. At the last General Election it was frequently asserted that the landlords objected to allotments, whereas it had since been shown that that was by no means the case. It was no longer necessary to inquire whether landowners were ready to grant allotments; but it was of the greatest importance to know exactly the number of cottage gardens and allotments in the hands of labourers in the country, because from that it could be judged whether the demand for them had been satisfied. The overseers of parishes had good reason to complain of the niggardly manner in which their services were recognized. He wished to warn Parliament and the public against placing too much reliance upon the Returns now being collected.


said, he could assure the noble Earl (the Earl of Onslow) that Her Majesty's Government were most anxious that this Return should be as accurate as possible. At the time when the noble Earl made his Motion there was some question as to when the Return should be ready. At first it was promised in September; but it was finally arranged that it should be ready in June. For that purpose it was found necessary to obtain the assistance of the overseers in the different parishes, since the officers of the Inland Revenue and Agricultural Departments in England and Wales were so much engaged that they could not undertake any extra work. If the later time—September—had been adhered to, the Inland Revenue officers might have been able to do the work. In Scotland the work had been done by the Inland Revenue officers—14,500 forms of Return had been sent out, and 11,800 had been returned. The Inland Revenue officers carefully went over all these Returns, and where they found it necessary they asked the overseers for further information, and their inquiries were always most heartily, promptly, and intelligently answered. As to the complaint that the overseers had received no remuneration for their work, he would only-point out to the noble Earl that, considering the number of parishes in Great Britain—some 16,000—paymenteven at £1 per head would require so large a sum of money that the Government would not be justified in asking for it. The overseers had in almost all cases been ready and willing to do the work, and in many cases they had stated that they would be glad to furnish any further information they could obtain. There had not been more than 100 applications for payment. He could assure their Lordships that great pains had been taken to obtain accurate information, and that the English Revenue officers and the Agricultural Department were only too anxious to furnish an accurate Return. With that object in view they would be glad to receive from any of their Lordships any complaints or remonstrances they might think fit to make as to the character of the information obtained, when inquiry should be made into the circumstances. He sincerely hoped that the Return would be found to be satisfactory.


said, he fully believed that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Onslow) and the Government had been very anxious to obtain an accurate Return; and yet, after hearing the statement of the noble Earl, he could not help fearing that that had not been done. The difficulty lay in the fact that the overseers to whom the noble Earl had appealed did not of themselves possess the knowledge necessary for making the Return. These allotments, if under a quarter of an acre, did not appear upon the books, and the result was that an overseer officially knew nothing about them. If an overseer wanted to know what the number of allotments on a particular property was he might ascertain it from the agent of the property; but if he could not he must take a walk round the parish and see for himself. It was not only a matter of counting allotments; that would be a comparatively easy thing, for they generally lay in one or two fields. But when there was included in the Return the number of cottage gardens it required a considerable knowledge of the parish to find them out. His impression was that overseers, unless they should obtain assistance from the land agents in their parishes, would find it very difficult to prepare complete Returns. If the overseers and agents were not brought into communication, Returns such as were contemplated in the Notice of the noble Earl must almost necessarily be defective. A Return when made ought to be placed on the church or chapel door, where attention would be attracted to it. Then, if it should contain anything which was defective, the local knowledge of the people would at once supply the deficiency. A defective Return would be worse than useless, because it would create a false impression. They all remembered the panic that was caused by the Census officers when they returned the owners of land in this country as 30,000 instead of nearly 1,000,000.


said, he believed that a great many cottages to which allotments were attached, and which ought, therefore, to be included in the Returns promised by the Government, would not appear in the official lists. If the overseer should trust for his information to the ratebook, he would fail to learn of the existence of many such cottages. In order that the overseer might be sure of acquiring the desired information a house-to-house visitation would be necessary.


said, that in the county with which he was most intimately connected the overseers had held meetings with a view to determine how the Returns could be best compiled.