HL Deb 07 September 1887 vol 320 cc1524-34

(The Viscount Cross.)


Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Viscount Cross.)


alluding to the very scanty appearance of their Lordships' House, there being only 13 noble Lords present, said, that fact was not very encouraging to anyone to rise to discuss a subject of great public importance; but nevertheless he thought it necessary to make some remarks on the subject of the Allotments Bill. And first of all, on the part of Members of their Lordships' House, he might complain not only of the period at which the Bill had been introduced, but of the exceedingly short Notice that had been given between the first and the second reading. It was only that very morning, when he happened to be in the country, that he saw the Bill had been read last night a first time. He was travelling up to London on other business, when he discovered that the second reading was to be taken this evening. Now, he did not think that such short Notice of an important measure of the sort was conducive to the convenience, or even the credit of their Lordships' House. He could quite understand the desire to bringing to a conclusion so prolonged and arduous a Session; but he thought Her Majesty's Government might be blamed in this matter. Ministers had evidently changed their minds in reference to the necessity of such a measure. The Bill excited great interest, not only in their Lordships' House, but elsewhere, and Questions were asked as to when the Government were going to introduce this measure, which he believed was one of the measures mentioned in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne. On the 16th of May, in answer to a Question in "another place," the Leader of the House stated that the Government were anxious to bring in the Bill, and added that it would be introduced in "another place;" and, later in the same evening, the President of the Local Government Board intimated that the Bill would be brought in at once without delay. On the 16th of June, Lord Dun-raven introduced a measure on the subject, and he was met by the noble Lord (Lord Balfour) on the part of the Government, who said that the Government were anxious to see legislation dealing with allotments, and, if possible, to support it to a finality in this House. On that occasion, the Prime Minister (the Marquess of Salisbury) spoke, and stated that he rather deprecated the introduction of a measure by the Government on this subject. The noble Marquess on that occasion had criticized the method in which the noble Earl proposed to deal with the question of authority, and had said that if they took some Central Body not concerned in the matter, the County Quarter Sessions, it might possibly deal with it in a perfunctory spirit, and, on the other hand, if they took the Local Sanitary Board or the Board of Guardians, there might be danger of abuse and of disturbance of the public peace. The noble Marquess had also given as another reason for not bringing in a Bill, the argument that they should wait until proposals for a scheme of local government were before Parliament, and the question was in some fair way of being settled. What, however, had the Government done? On the 16th of July, after the noble Marquess had said that he did not think it desirable to introduce a Bill on the subject until a measure of local government had been introduced, a Bill was introduced in "another place." What had made that change in the opinions of the Government? There was certainly one fact which had occurred which might have had something to do with it— namely, a certain election which had taken place on the 6th of July. However that might be, the Government had certainly put the cart before the horse by introducing an Allotments Bill without having introduced a large measure of county government, contrary to the speech of the noble Marquess; and not only that, but they had introduced into it both the authorities to which the noble Marquess had taken exception. He (Earl Spencer) thought that some explanation was really necessary of the course which Her Majesty's Government had taken. Why had they been so late in introducing the Bill, and why had they changed the opinions which they had expressed? He had no intention of moving any Amendments to the Bill; but he wished to say one or two words with regard to the principle. He most heartily approved of the main principle of the Bill, and he thought that everybody was in favour of increasing the number of allotments for the poor people of the country. There was no doubt immense advantage was given to the labouring man if, in addition to what he obtained for his wages, he could have an allotment whereby to supply his private wants as regarded vegetables, and it might add to his luxuries. He was glad to see both parties agreed upon this question. Many, no doubt, would have preferred to leave the question to be settled in the open market; but they knew that unless some compulsory powers were given for the acquisition of allotments, where the owner was unwilling to grant them, the number of allotments required could not be given to the poor agricul- tural labourers. He rejoiced that Her Majesty's Government had gone as far as they had done in enabling allotments to be procured; but, at the same time, he thought that there was considerable objection to some of the provisions of the Bill. He did not think that the Boards of Guardians would be very suitable bodies, as he was afraid they would not be sufficiently sympathetic with the poor in connection with this matter, and he thought that some disappointment would be felt at the Bill not being put sufficiently into force as much as the requirements needed. At the same time, it was extremely difficult to create a representative body ad hoc, especially one dealing with allotments; and therefore, though he did not altogether like the authority proposed, he was ready to accept it. As the Bill, however, was introduced, he regretted it had not gone a little further. He was glad that Her Majesty's Government had resisted the Amendment moved in the other House limiting the size of an allotment to half-an-acre. Although he considered that a man in full work could not deal thoroughly with as much as an acre, yet there might be cases in which a man might do so, and therefore it would have been a great mistake if the size had been restricted to half-an-acre. He thought, however, that the Bill might have gone further, and provision might have been made for dealing with a matter upon which a great deal of ridicule had been thrown, but which he maintained was of the greatest importance—namely, what was known as "three acres and a cow." In many places the labourers were not desirous of having three acres for pasturage, as they were not able to find a cow; but in many places this was not the case, and in his opinion it was a pity that the Government had not gone further than they had done, and included the possibility of giving to the agricultural labourers the opportunity of getting the three acres and a cow where they desired it. No doubt, the Government had dealt with the question under the system of common pasturing, and in some places that system had been a great success, although, in other cases, it might have fallen into the hands of one or two of the bigger men. When a man had a cow and food for it during the summer, he was obliged to have some other land where he could grow hay for its food during the winter. What he wished to know was whether there was sufficient power in the Bill to enable the Local Authority to provide also sufficient land in order that enough hay might be produced for the keep of animals belonging to the tenants of the allotments for their cows during the winter? He had known cases where this had really been carried out, and where the poor of the parish had a field where they could keep their cows during the summer, also additional land where hay was made for the winter. This, he thought, was a very important matter, and he would like to see that the point was dealt with in the Bill. He thought that the whole question was one worthy of being discussed at an earlier period of the Session and in a fuller House; and he would again ask the Government to explain why this Bill only now appeared before them?


said, that the Government could not be expected to do more than pass a Bill into law in the course of the Session which they had announced in the Queen's Speech. As to the question of introducing it early or late in the Session, the Government must be guided in that by the state of Public Business as to when and in what House they should originate legislation. The noble Earl opposite (Earl Spencer) seemed to be of opinion that Her Majesty's Government had suddenly woke up to the possibility, as well as the advisability, of introducing an Allotments Bill. He would, however, call the attention of the noble Earl to the statement made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord Randolph Churchill), in what was generally known as the Dartford speech, before the present Parliament. In that speech, the noble Lord had distinctly said that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce such a Bill, and in answer to several Questions put in their Lordships' House by the noble Earls (the Earl of Dunraven and the Earl of Jersey), the Government had replied that they intended to introduce an Allotments Bill, but must be guided as to when by the state of Public Business. He noticed, also that while the Bill had been severely criticized by the Friends of the noble Earl in the other House, the objections did not appear to go so much to the provisions as they did to the names of the persons on the back of the measure, and who were responsible for its introduction. The noble Earl had stated that the Bill now before their Lordships provided an authority which the noble Marquess at the head of the Government had distinctly condemned. Speaking from recollection of that debate, he (the Earl of Onslow) ventured to think that the noble Earl was in error, and that the authority which the noble Marquess had condemned was the County Authority, as having too large an area, and not Boards of Guardians.


said, that he had spoken from the noble Marquess's own words.


said, that no doubt the Government admitted that the authority provided was not a perfect one; but the difficulty was, where they had not got a duly constituted Local Authority before them to find one, and he thought that the choice made by the Government was, in the circumstances, a happy one. He had heard many objections to the Bill; but he did not think they were directed against any of its clauses. He confessed he infinitely preferred allotments provided by landlords voluntarily; and the Government had expressly and wisely kept the principle of the voluntary supply of allotments in the forefront of the Bill, which provided that the Local Authority should only have power to acquire allotments compulsorily when the landlords would not grant them voluntarily. In the rural districts of England there was no very large unsatisfied demand for allotments; but it was necessary to embody in the Bill, as a last resort, the principle of compulsion. Where the Bill would do most good was in the neighbourhood of towns, near which artizans often experienced the greatest difficulty in obtaining land, however good might be the terms that were offered. He rejoiced, therefore, that an Amendment had been introduced in the Bill in "another place" directing that land near a town should be let for allotments on the terms applicable to agricultural land in the district. The object of the Government had been to make the Bill what it was —an Allotments Bill—and not a Bill to provide small holdings. He had the greatest doubt as to the success of small holdings; but he had no doubt as to the success of this system of allotments. Of the authorities that might be chosen to administer the Bill, neither the parish nor the Court of Quarter Sessions could fulfil the duties which the measure imposed as efficiently as the Board of Guardians. The tendency of recent times had been to diminish, and not to increase, the authority of the Vestry; and the area under the control of the Court of Quarter Sessions was too wide to permit of its taking cognizance of all the demands for allotments in every parish of the county. He confessed the Board of Guardians was not so satisfactory an authority as he should desire; but the Bill must remain, to some extent, in embryo, until the Bill was passed into law for the appointment of a Constitutional and Electoral Authority. There were some points in the Bill to which it was desirable to draw attention. In the first place, it provided that the labourers themselves, if they should so desire, should have the management of the allotments. As the parish would have to bear a certain burden when the Bill was put into operation, it was only right that in the hands of the elected of the parish should be placed the management of the allotments. That was also a valuable provision which dissociated the rates and taxes from the rent, for it would give every holder of an allotment a personal interest in the rise or fall of the rates, which was a very important matter. He should object very strongly to any proposal for giving every labourer three acres and a cow. The noble Earl (Earl Spencer) had expressed great regret at the absence of that provision; but if a proposal had been put in the Bill to give three acres, it would have led to great misconception and disappointment to the labourers themselves. There could be no doubt that at onetime there existed in the minds of many labourers in England an impression that somehow or other by legislation each one of them would become possessed of three acres and a cow, and he was therefore particularly glad that these three acres had been kept out of the Bill. The area of an acre chosen by the Government he thought a very wise one; because, though in certain cases it might be too large, there was nothing in the Bill to compel the authority to give the whole acre, and if the Bill provided for more than an acre, he was convinced it would become not an Allotment Bill, but a Small Holdings Bill. A locality could not advantageously acquire enough land to make a plan of that kind feasible, and in the scheme would have to be included measures for the compulsory appropriation of farms. If ever there should exist means of appropriating large areas of pasture land, owners would find it very difficult indeed to let their farms. Then, the possession of a cow by every holder of a three-acre allotment would necessitate the erection of a cow shed and of costly fences by the Local Authority, who would practically be placed in the position of a landlord without his responsibilities. In the Bill, however, there was nothing to prevent a man from keeping a cow. The right of common pasture would exist, and in winter the labourer would be able to feed his cow on the produce of his acre allotment. There was nothing which tended more to make a peasantry happy and contented, and to secure their adhesion to the principle of property, than the ownership or occupancy of a small plot of land. Bearing that in mind, he looked upon this measure as likely to effect substantial good, and he asked their Lordships to read it a second time with equal confidence in its results.


said, that he heartily approved of the principle of the Bill, and believed that small allotments would add pleasure to the existence of many persons; that they would add to their means, and go some way to make them more contented. There was as much right to take land compulsorily at a fair price for that as for any other public purpose, and he believed that, with a wise discretion, the Government in framing it had not exceeded the limits of moderation and caution. He trusted that one result of the Bill would be to make the poor labourer feel that land did not exist only for the benefit of very rich and very great people. It was curious that although enterprise in this country had found many vents there was, as far as he knew, no record of the successful establishment of a Public Company for providing allotments; at all events, the cases were very few. This Bill made the ratepayers in certain districts, to some extent with their own consent, shareholders in this doubtful concern so far as the providing of land was concerned. Therefore the Government were most discreet in not going further than was at once safe and necessary in the provisions of the Bill.


said, he preferred this Bill to that of the noble Earl (the Earl of Dunraven), which made the Bench of Magistrates decide on allotments. He felt certain that the greatest possible attention would be directed to each case as it arose before the Sanitary Committee, and afterwards before the Local Government Board. It must be borne in mind that on the Union principle of rating, the Board of Guardians had to consult the persons in the area of that Union, and therefore, in his judgment, nothing would be done rashly with respect to the allotments. He was glad to hear of the possibility that the Court of Quarter Sessions was not to be changed in its character. He feared that if the providing of allotments were added to the business of that body, it would turn it into a mere debating society, instead of keeping it, as in the past, the best business society in the county, which ought to be above suspicion.


said, he was glad to find that the measure received such hearty support from their Lordships. In answer to the noble Earl (Earl Spencer) who complained as to the time when the Bill was brought forward, he did not say that it was owing to the lack of more speedy procedure in "another place" the measure had not been brought under their Lordships' attention before. But "better late than never," and he (Viscount Cross) was glad to see it even at that late period, for he believed that most beneficial results would ensue from its passing. He proposed to take the Committee stage to-morrow.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.



Commons' Amendment to one of the Lords' Amendments, and reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords' Amendments and Commons' consequential Amendment, considered (according to Order).

Commons Amendment, disagreeing to the omission of Clause 4 (Weekly payment of wages in Ireland) and Clause 5 (Workmen in Scotch quarries to be paid fortnightly).

Moved, "That this House doth insist on the Amendment made by this House to which the Commons have disagreed." —(The Lord Clinton.)

Motion agreed to.

Commons' Amendments to Clauses 8, 9, and 12 agreed to.


Moved, "That this House doth not insist on the Amendment made by this House to which the Commons have disagreed."—(The Lord Clinton.)


in commenting on the uncertainty surrounding the repeal of the Acts mentioned in the Schedule, pointed to it as an illustration of the loose mode of drafting Acts of Parliament, in regard to which they were unable to understand whether Acts or parts of them were repealed or not. A little more care ought to be bestowed on the arrangement of a repeal or amending Act before it was submitted to Parliament.

Motion agreed to.

Consequential Amendment made.


said, he wished to call attention to Clause 12 (Artificer to be paid in cash and not by way of barter for articles made by him). When the question was previously discussed, the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), who understood the subject thoroughly, earnestly protested against the clause. It seemed to him (Lord Bramwell) to contain a most unreasonable proposition; and he, therefore, asked their Lordships to adhere to their Amendment striking out the clause. The clause was really an enactment that makers of Shetland goods should not be paid in goods, but in money. What was the justification for such a clause? None that he knew of. The people were commonly paid in this manner, and were not discontented with it. He could not find any justification at all for putting an end to a system which was convenient, and against which no valid objection had been brought.


rose to speak, when—


intervening, pointed out that there was no Motion before the House.


said, that, having missed his opportunity by inadvertence, by not having the reasons in their order, he might, at least, be allowed to speak by the indulgence of their Lordships.


said, that, of course, there was no absolute rule; their Lordships could do as they pleased; but not only had the clause in question been formally passed and agreed to, but another clause had been passed since, and he did not think there was any precedent for the course proposed by the noble Lord.

A Committee appointed to prepare reasons to be offered to the Commons for the Lords insisting on certain of their Amendments; the Committee to meet forthwith.

Report from the Committee of the reasons to be offered to the Commons for the Lords insisting on certain of their Amendments; read, and agreed to; and a message sent to the Commons to return the said Bill with an Amendment and reasons.

House adjourned at half-past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.