HL Deb 07 July 1903 vol 124 cc1508-13


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I need only detain the House for one moment in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, which has been before your Lordships on one or two previous occasions, but failed to secure a Second Reading. The object of the Bill is to facilitate the provision of allotments by the London County Council and to enable that body to set out pieces of land in small allotments, which would be a great convenience and benefit to a large number of Londoners. At the present moment, under the Small Holdings Act, 1894, it is impossible to set out land except in parcels of over an acre. This Bill would enable the London County Council to let smaller portions of land than that, so as to avoid the great evil which now exists of under-letting. In London we have ninety-one acres let out in allotments, but there are over 12,000 acres in different parts of London available for cutting up and letting in small allotments. It is difficult to conceive why there should be any objection to this apparently harmless Bill, but I believe the great objection to it is that this power is not given to any County Councils in England. I venture to submit that there is a great difference between the County Councils in England and the London County Council. District and Parish Councils undertake this work and do it very well, in the country, but in London the boroughs have never moved in this direction at all. I respectfully ask the House to give us this power, which is, after all, a very small one, for it is only extending to the London County Council, which is responsible for the welfare of 5,000,000 of people, privileges which are given to every District and Parish Council in England.

Moved that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Carrington.)


My Lords, I regret that the Local Government Board do not see their way to accept this Bill. The noble Earl was perfectly correct in stating that he had presented the Bill to the House on two previous occasions and on both of those occasions it was rejected—on the first by eighty-seven votes to twenty-five, and on the second by fifty-six votes to sixteen, from which I think it will be seen that the House has not agreed to the principle of the Bill. The Local Government Board conceive it to be more the duty of the Borough Councils to deal with this question, and I cannot follow the noble Earl in his argument that the London County Council would be more fitted to deal with it than other County Councils. The London County Council has to deal with an urban population, and the other County Councils with more rural populations, and if there was anything in his argument it would be in favour of giving to the more rural County Councils the powers which this Bill proposes to confer on the London County Council. Outside London the powers as regards the provision of allotments devolve on the Urban and Rural District Councils, except in cases where the Council may default in their duty. There is no doubt that at present the Metropolitan Borough Councils are not empowered to purchase land for allotments, but looking to the circumstances of London it may be assumed that if allotments are required they can be more properly secured by hiring than by purchase of land for the purpose, and if power for purchase is necessary it should be conferred on the Borough Councils. I hope, therefore your Lordships will not consent to read the Bill a second time.


My Lords, I deeply regret that the noble Lord should have been instructed by the Local Government Board to offer opposition to this Bill, especially because it seems to me there is no opposition to be offered to the measure on the ground of principle. The principle of the Bill has really been accepted. Even the noble Lord in his speech raised no objection to the principle of the Bill. It was merely a question of machinery that he raised. The most he could say was that this Bill did so far cause a certain difference between the London County Council and other County Councils in proposing to give to the London County Council a power which was not held by other County Councils He did not at all argue that there was any principle violated by giving to an authority in London power to deal with land by means of allotments. I venture to say that there is this difference—which the noble Lord has entirely forgotten—that the London County Council itself is a very special body, and that it differs in a great many ways from an ordinary County Council. The argument that he used that an ordinary County Council dealt with rural districts and a rural population, and therefore was better fitted to deal with allotments, does not apply in London. The London County Council has to meet the wants of an urban population, and may therefore presumably be supposed to be acquainted with the wants of that population and to know how best to deal with them. What is the history of this question? The London County Council has been given power to acquire land for small holdings, it can at this moment acquire and let out or sell land for small holdings, varying from one acre to fifty acres. It can let out portions of land of a comparatively large area, and yet it is not to be entrusted with the power to let out smaller areas. The people of London do not require allotments of ten or twenty or fifty acres; what they want are small garden plots, and these the County Council cannot supply except by what I may call a subterfuge. I dare say the noble Lord is not aware that by a roundabout method the London County Council does manage to supply to the people of London these small allotments, and does so, as I think, in a very unsatisfactory manner; but the demand was so great that we were obliged to find that way, which is always to be found, of driving a coach-and-four through an Act of Parliament.

Even now the London County Council in seven different districts of London supplies no less than eighty-four and a half acres of land to no fewer than 734 cultivators, or an average of nine per acre. That does not involve any charge on the rates; on the contrary, the County Council, by this method, has managed to some extent to meet the wants of the people without placing any burden whatever on the ratepayers. I find from last year's report that the receipts from these small holdings amounted to no less than £357, while the expenditure on them was £308. Let me just give an instance or two of the rents which the London County Council pays for these lands, and the sums that are paid by the small cultivators. In the Catford district the Council pays £2 15s. an acre for the land and receives from the tenants £5 10s. an acre; in the Plumstead district the Council pays £2 10s. an acre and receives £5 an acre; in the hooters' Hill district the Council pays £2 10s. an acre and receives £2 14s.; and in the Norwood district the Council pays £4 and receives £7 15s. It will be seen from these figures that, though the London County Council is obliged to pay very much more than the agricultural value for the land, the people who are desirous of having these allotments are willing to pay six or seven times the agricultural value for it. All that this Bill asks your Lordships to do is to legalise the system which is now in force, because after all it is only by an evasion of the present Act that the London County Council has been able to do this very valuable work. If the London County Council is to do this work and provide these allotments, it is far better that they should do it in an open and authorised manner than in a roundabout way. The noble Lord said he thinks it better that the Borough Councils should do this, but they have not got power to do it, and have not shown the least desire of wanting power. On the other hand, the London County Council has been doing it, has received the thanks of the people whom it serves for doing it, and has shown that it can do it even with all the present difficulties, without putting a single sixpence on the rates and without embarrassing any body at all. I think that a body which is capable of undertaking all the work which the present Government has thrown upon it in the last three years is certainly fit to be entrusted with the duty of performing in a direct and legal way a service it has already rendered for some years to the people of London in an indirect way. For that reason I hope, in spite of the speech of my noble friend Lord Kenyon, your Lordships will con sent to read the Bill a second time.


My Lords, I cannot understand why at this period of the session this Bill, which has been more than once rejected by the House, should be brought in and should be pressed when it is obvious, owing to the attitude of the noble Lord who represents the Local Government Board, that it has not much chance of passing. I do not think any reason has been shown why the London County Council should be put in this matter in a position different from other County Councils, and it is also perfectly obvious that the London County Council would have to go outside its own district to purchase this land. One reason why the Local Government Board think that if there is any real demand for these allotments the Borough Councils would be the best bodies to provide them is this, that in that case the transaction would be directly under the purview of those whose responsibility would be