HL Deb 11 August 1919 vol 36 cc762-76

Amendments reported (according to Order).


I have had some difficulty in discovering which of the Amendments comes first, so many have been submitted in manuscript form, which on Report stage is extremely inconvenient. I think Lord Grey's is the first.

Duties of county councils with respect to sale or lease of land.

11.—(1) Land acquired by a county council under the principal Act, shall be sold or let by the council at the best price or sum that can reasonably be obtained, and where sold or let for small holdings be sold or let, except where the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries for any special reason otherwise direct, subject to a reservation of all minerals vested in the council.

(2) Where land is sold for small holdings or an option to purchase a small holding is given at any time before the first day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-six, the sale or option shall only be made or given subject to the approval of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.

(3) A council may give to the tenant of a small holding an option to purchase the holding on such terms as may be agreed and be consistent with the provisions of this section, and on any such sale any increase of the value of the land due to improvements executed by and at the expense of the tenant shall not be taken into account in estimating the best price obtainable for the land.

(4) A council may by order in relation to sales or options for sale of small holdings provided by the council which are made or given while the order is in force, modify or suspend the operation of subsection (3) of section eleven of the principal Act (which requires the payment on completion of the purchase of a small holding of not less than one-fifth of the purchase money) and extend the term within which the purchase money is required by subsection (5) of that section to be repaid, but so that the term shall not exceed sixty years: Provided that any order made under this subsection before the thirty-first day of March nineteen hundred and twenty-six, shall require the approval of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Treasury.

(5) A council, when selling or letting a small holding at any time before the expiration of two years after the passing of this Act, shall give preference to suitable men who have served at any time in the forces of the Crown and to suitable women who are certified by the Board to have been engaged in whole-time employment on agricultural work for a period of not less than six months during the present war.


Since the Amendment standing in my name to this Clause was put on the Paper, I understand that the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill has had certain negotiations with the Agricultural Group in another place, and as a result of that, with your Lordships's permission, I do not propose to move it, but to move another Amendment which has been drafted by Viscount Peel. The Amendment that I now propose to move recognises that the small holder should be entitled to purchase his holding after the period of six years. I accept it, and thank the noble Viscount for having drafted it.

Amendment moved—

Clause 11, page 7, omit subsection (3), and insert the following subsections— (1) A tenant of a holding provided by a county council on land purchased by the council who has been in occupation thereof for a period of not less than six years shall on notice of his desire to purchase the holding being given to the council at any time before the tenant has received notice to quit the holding, be entitled to require the sale to him of the holding at the expiration of one month from the date of the notice at the then value of the holding, exclusive of any increase of the value thereof due to any improvement executed thereon by and at the expense of the tenant, and thereupon the council shall sell the holdings to the tenant accordingly unless the council obtain the consent of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to the requirement of the tenant being refused by the council. (2) The value of the holding shall in default of agreement be determined by arbitration under and in accordance with the provisions of the Second Schedule to the Agricultural Holding; Act, 1908."—(Earl Grey.)


I am glad that we have arrived at this compromise.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

EARL GREY moved, in subsection (4), to leave out "modify or suspend the operation of subsection (3) of section (11) of the principal Act (which requires the payment on completion of the purchase money) and".

The noble Earl said: The Amendment which you have accepted goes part of the way to meet us, but in the next subsection, which refers to the method by which payment shall be made, I hope your Lordships will agree to do something more for the small holder. As the principle Act stands at present in Section 11 subsection (3) the small holder who wishes to purchase may be called upon to pay down a lump sum, not exceeding 20 per cent. of the value of the holding he wishes to purchase. A holding of the size of twenty acres may be valued at £30 an acre and he would be called upon to pay down a lump sum of about £120, which, I suggest, is an excessive sum to ask for, especially in view of the fact that you debar the holder from purchasing his land until he has proved himself over a period of six years to be a fit and proper person to purchase land. I suggest that it really is not necessary to ask a purchaser in those circumstances to pay down any lump sum at all. After all the security for the loan is the land itself, and the Treasury will have ample security in the land plus the trust which they put on an experience of six years. I should like to remind your Lordships of a quotation from Lord Ernle mentioned the other day by Lord Malmesbury. It is as follows: Where the State lends to a public body or to an individual the risk is the same. If it is reasonably safe to lend to a public body it is reasonably safe to lend to the individual. The risk is slight. If the first two yearly instalments are paid the risk is infinitesimal, and the land remains as security throughout the continuance of the loan.

I hope you will make it easier by removing this provision, which undoubtedly has been one of the main causes which prevented the small holder in the past from acquiring the ownership or his holding.

Amendment moved— Clause 11, page 7, line 13, leave out from ("force") to ("extend") in line 17.—(Earl Grey.)


I trust that my noble friend will rest content with his success on the previous Amendment, and that he will leave this clause as it stands in the Bill. Under the part of the clause which we have already passed the noble Earl has secured this option for tenants to buy their small holdings, and under the clause as it stands in the Bill the county councils can either suspend altogether or can modify as much as they like this provision as to the payment of one-fifth on the completion of the purchase. Moreover they can extend the period for repayment from fifty to sixty years. That is a very substantial advance in favour of the small holder. The proposal of my noble friend is this: He says there shall be no option at all on the part of the county councils to say that either a small deposit or any deposit shall be paid, but in all cases the sale must be effected without any deposit whatever, merely on the security of the land or the character of the person farming it.

I think that is an unreasonable suggestion. I think you cannot take away from the seller the very limited right of saying that in some cases it may be necessary to have some small deposit, because it is not necessarily the one-fifth. They might ask 5 or 10 per cent. or what not. There is this further objection. Take the case of those who are already small holders. The six years in their case may have lapsed, and they may come forward and say we have got the right to buy and we will buy and pay no deposit. Now during the seven years the whole of the loss falls on the Treasury, and from the point of view of the Treasury and the general finance of the Bill the Government offer the most unhesitating opposition to the idea that they should be called upon to face the possibility of loss by giving this absolute right to the small holder to pay only by instalments over this long period of years. I submit that the small holder is treated very well, and that it is only fair to allow some option to the county council—if they refuse he can always go to the Board—some right of saying that some small deposit should be paid.


I do not wait to appear ungrateful to my noble friend for the concession which he has made. He has throughout this business, as always, endeavoured to meet the views of those who have not seen eye to eye with him in the beginning, but this question which my noble friend has raised is really a very important one, and is not a new one. The question is whether the soldier or the sailor who has fought and perhaps bled in this war is to have the power of getting his land on as easy terms as the Irishman who has not. That is really, in a nutshell, the question at issue. This principle of instalment is one of which my Lords all Irishmen have taken advantage, and are taking advantage for aught I know, every week now. Compare those men with the men whom we have in our mind in relation to this Bill, namely, the soldiers and sailors who have fought and perhaps bled in this war. I can conceive no argument drawn from the Treasury principle which can really legitimately be applied for depriving these men of the privilege which is given to, I shall not say their Irish brothers, but to Irishmen, some of whom have fought nobly but many of whom have not fought.

I must say that when you have Lord Ernle's authority for the fact that there is no risk in it, I do not think your Lordships need be impressed by the argument of risk which was put forward. Therefore I hope that you will make an effort to put this into the Bill. It was very nearly done in the House of Commons, and so far as I can ascertain there was a very clear majority for this proposal on Report in the House of Commons, but it was not pressed to a Division because those in favour of the Amendment thought that the Government themselves were going to put it in. I make no charge of breach of faith—it was clearly due to a misunderstanding.


I only want to put this before your Lordships. I am informed that there is really no chance of this Amendment being accepted by the Government. I only want to make that quite clear, and to save your Lordships from the trouble of sending this Bill down to the House of Commons and then when this Amendment comes hack again having to reject it. If your Lordships press the Amendment I shall not oppose it further here, but I offer a clear warning that your Lordships must not be disturbed if I ask you at a later stage not to agree to it.


Personally I should take the voice of the House of Commons upon it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Amendments moved—

Page 7, line 18, leave out ("that") and after ("section") insert ("eleven of the principal Act")

Page 7, line 22, insert as a new subsection:

"Subsection (3) of section eleven of the principal Act (which requires payment on completion of the purchase of a small holding of not less than one-fifth of the purchase money) is hereby repealed, and unless the purchaser desires to pay on completion of the purchase or at any subsequent time the whole or part of the purchase money, the whole of the purchase money shall be secured as provided by section eleven subsection (5) of the principal Act as amended by this Act."—(Earl Grey.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 16:

Amendment of section 41 of principal Act.

16.—(1) An order under the principal Act may, notwithstanding anything in section forty-one thereof, authorise the compulsory acquisition—

  1. (a) of any land which at the date of the order forms part of any park or of any home farm attached to and usually occupied with a mansion house, if the land is not required for the amenity or convenience of the mansion house; or
  2. (b) of a holding of fifty acres or less in extent or any part of such a holding.

(2) Where it is proposed to acquire any land forming part of a park or any such home farm, or, except where required for purposes of allotments, a holding of fifty acres or less in extent or of an annual value not exceeding fifty pounds for the purposes of income tax, or any part of such a holding, the order authorising the acquisition of the land shall not be valid unless confirmed or made by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.


The Amendment which I have placed on the Paper to Clause 16 requires considerable alteration. It raises a question which I raised before—namely, that a small holding could not be taken in the case of a person whose small holding was his sole means of livelihood. Two criticisms were made. One by Lord Crawford, that you could not define "sole," and therefore I was content to change that word. The other was by Lord Peel, that there might be cases in which the tenant wishes the land to be purchased. Therefore I beg to move the Amendment in the following form, which I understand is not unacceptable to the Government.

Amendment moved— Clause 16, page 10, line 8, at end insert as a new subsection: ("A holding to which the preceding subsection applies shall not in whole or in part be compulsorily acquired under the principal Act by the Board or a Council where it is shown to the satisfaction of the Board or the Council as the case may be that the holding is the principal means of livelihood of the occupier thereof except where the occupier is a tenant and consents to the acquisition").—(The Earl of Selborne.)


I am much obliged to the noble Earl for making the Amendment read so as to meet those points which I raised in a previous stage.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

EARL STANHOPE moved, after Clause 17, the following new clause: () Notwithstanding any of the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Regulations, or the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act, 1916, land acquired for allotments under the Defence of the Realm Regulations shall, from the date of the passing of this Act, be deemed to have been acquired under this Act, and the provisions of the principal Act in so far as regards the conditions under and the purpose for which the possession of the land may be resumed shall apply. Except where an agreement exists to the contrary, the Council of the county, borough, urban district or parish shall give not less than six months' previous notice in writing to allotment holders to quit the tenancy of their allotments.

The noble Earl said: The object of this clause is as follows. As soon as this Bill becomes law it will be possible to acquire allotments under four different methods—the Acts of 1908 and 1916, the Defence of the Realm Regulations, and the Bill now before your Lordships. The idea of this clause is to give uniformity to the allotments, so that in future they shall be brought under the provisions of this Bill. The second reason is to provide, in legal form, that land which is to be given up shall only be given up when it has been proved that it is required for building or other purposes. Finally, except where agreement is made to the contrary, the holders shall be given six months' notice before they have to give up their allotments. There are two sides to the question of security of tenure in regard to allotments. One, which was pressed in the House of Commons at some length, was this. There is a certain amount of so-called derelict land waiting for housing development, and which may have to be handed over to builders in say six months or nine months. Therefore it is necessary to be able to take land for a short period so as to get the advantage of allotments on that land until it is wanted for building purposes. My noble friend, Lord Peel, moved an Amendment in the Schedule which gave effect to that, so that notices in those cases could be short; but in the ordinary case the allotment holder does require greater security of tenure. I was told of a case this morning where the allotment holders had been given notice to quit their allotments—I think a fortnight's notice—and that notice expires this morning. As your Lordships can imagine, there is no time of the year so bad as the present time for allotment holders to have to give up their holdings, for their crops are now beginning to ripen. Obviously, if they had known earlier that they were to be given notice, they would have planted earlier crops, or would not have planted at all. I hope that your Lordships will agree to this Amendment which is chiefly a consolidating Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 17, insert the said new clause.—(Earl Stanhope.)


I am not sure that I fully understand what the Amendment of the noble Earl does, because it says that the Board is to be deemed to have taken over these allotments. It does not say exactly who takes them over, nor does it state at what price, or give any details whatever. Therefore the clause by itself would be completely inoperative. But I will not deal with the drafting, but with the matters of substance. First the Board itself declines to be the allotment authority, and does not want to be saddled with these allotments as such. Secondly, as to the security of tenure for these war allotments, my noble friend is quite right in saying that the notice is short; but, after all, that was the understanding in regard to these particular allotments which might be required for building. The effect of ray noble friend's Amendment would be absolutely to block and hinder the possibility of the Housing Act being put into force, and I therefore ask your Lordships to resist this proposal. Even if the Board wished to get these allotments rapidly they would be saddled with very heavy damage indeed for building contracts which are entered into; and besides, as regards providing other allotments for the allotment holders, it is the duty of the local authorities to provide allotments as rapidly as possible. I therefore urge your Lordships not to give this security of tenure which was never intended and never expected.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

EARL STANHOPE moved, after Clause 17, to insert the following new clause:— () It is hereby declared that in cases where notice to vacate allotments has been given it shall be the duty of the council of the county, borough, urban district, or parish giving such notice, to endeavour to provide alternative allotments for such holders before they are dispossessed.

The noble Earl said: This power is already contained in the Act of 1908, and the only object of putting this clause in the present Bill is to bring it before members of the various councils in order that they should realise the necessity of providing allotments as well as small holdings. As your Lordships know, at any rate with regard to the small councils, dealing by reference to other Acts is not satisfactory, and therefore rit is ather to jog their memory than for any other object that I move the Amendment.

Amendment moved— After Clause 17, insert the said new clause.—(Earl Stanhope.)


I hope that my noble friend will not use this Act of Parliament for jogging the memories of other persons. I suggest that that can be done more effectually in other places. Of course it is the duty of these local authorities to provide as many allotments as are necessary, more especially for those people who are turned out, but I would suggest that putting in words that really have very little effect is rather unnecessary in an Act of Parliament. It is not always quite possible to supply these allotments at once, because short notice has sometimes to be given as I explained on a previous Amendment, and some little time may elapse before another allotment can be got but it is the duty of the local authorities—and they are being urged to do so by the Board—to provide these allotments as rapidly as possible, and they quite appreciate the point made by my noble friend.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28:

Provisions as to commons and open spaces.

28.—(1) Any land which is, or forms part of, a metropolitan common within the meaning of the Metropolitan Commons Act, 1866, or which is subject to regulation under an order or scheme made in pursuance of the Inclosure Acts, 1845 to 1899, or under any local Act or otherwise, or which is or forms part of any town or village green, or of any area dedicated or appropriated as public park, garden, or pleasure ground, or for use for the purposes of public recreation, shall not be appropriated under this Act by a council for small holdings or allotments, and shall not be acquired by a council or by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries under the principal Act except under the authority of an order for compulsory purchase made under the principal Act, which so far as it relates to such land shall be provisional only, and shall not have effect unless it is confirmed by Parliament.

(2) The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, in giving or withholding their consent under this Act to the appropriation and in confirming an order for compulsory acquisition by a council for the purpose of small holdings or allotments of any land which forms part of any common, and in the exercise by the Board of their powers of acquiring land under this Act, shall have regard to the same considerations and shall hold the same inquiries as are directed by the Commons Act, 1876, to be taken into consideration and held by the Board before forming an opinion whether an application under the Inclosure Acts shall be acceded to or not.

VISCOUNT MIDLETON moved, at the end of subsection (2), to insert "Any consent by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries for the appropriation of land forming part of any common for the purpose of small holdings or allotments shall be laid before Parliament while Parliament is sitting, and if within twenty-one days in either House of Parliament a motion is carried dissenting from such appropriation the Order of the Board shall be cancelled."

The noble Viscount said: This is an Amendment which I press very strongly upon the Government. The question of commons law is one upon which I should be very loath to detain your Lordships at this hour, but I think the Government will realise that the Bill would not have reached this stage without amendment in this respect if more of the legal members of your Lordships' House had been present. At present, except the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, all the legal members of your Lordships' House are engaged elsewhere. The position is a very serious one. Certain commons which have been subject to regulation or Metropolitan commons are not to be taken without the sanction of Parliament. The sanction of Parliament has been held almost throughout commons law as being necessary for the alienation of commons, and at this moment there is every reason why commons should be specially protected. The whole question of taking commons has received a tremendous impetus in the course of the last few years by the action of the war, and this Bill makes it almost certain that every attempt will be made by local authorities to take commons.

Take two reasons which never existed before. In the first place, under Clause 3 of the Bill, if they do not provide sufficient small holdings in their districts the Board of Agriculture may come down upon them and act at once in their stead. No self-respecting county council or parish council desires to have a superior authority coming in and acting for them. On the other hand, an appeal is given with regard to commons to the Board of Agriculture, but they are a prejudiced party in the matter, because if by Clause 26 the county council or the parish council has been put to any expenditure in excess of its receipts it has to be made good by the Board of Agriculture. After the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day it is quite clear that we may arrive at a period when money will be most difficult to get, and the Board of Agriculture have of course the first interest in endeavouring to get on the cheapest possible lines the very large amount of small holdings which it may be necessary to obtain.

The effect of this on the commons of England may be unlimited. There is no limitation of amount, there is no power of appeal given in the Bill. And Lord Ernle, when he was approached early in the day, said most clearly that there was no intention on the part of the Government to touch commons which were of use for recreation. He fully admitted the value of rural commons, but when the Land Settlement Bill comes in we find that there is no limitation, that they may be taken, subject to an appeal to the Board of Agriculture. This particular class of land is one on which all those who are not themselves responsible for keeping up commons will look with hungry eyes. It is useless to tell a town councillor who has to find a number of holdings that the neighbouring common, which may be a mile or two off, is of the greatest possible value as a lung to the district. It is a thing which in the excitement of the moment—the desire to carry out this Bill—he will lose sight of. Those are things which have been laid down and have become part not only of practice but of the law for many generations.

I feel that as the Bill stands it is a direct incitement to the revival of the enclosure movement which has been condemned by Parliament for the last forty or fifty years, and which was the subject of Acts previously. But an enclosure movement which Parliament has endeavoured to check for the rich is now going to obtain for those who are not so rich, and it is not in the interests of the public at large. I feel I have a right to ask that, if the Board of Agriculture should find it necessary in any instance to give its sanction to the taking of rural commons, that sanction should be laid before Parliament, and that while, in the previous Clause, commons cannot be taken without an actual Resolution of Parliament, we should have the lesser protection that matters for the decision of the Board of Agriculture should be laid on the Table of Parliament, and either House should have an opportunity of moving a Resolution withholding sanction.

I ask you to realise that owing to the taking of a large number of commons all over the country for military purposes in the last few years the sanctity of commons has entirely gone. Buildings have been put up by the score and the thousand on commons. Every kind of thing has been done, and one of the first things we must do is to get back our commons into the old condition and make them as they have been available for the recreation of the public in years gone by.

Amendment moved— Clause 28, page 16, line 11, after ("not") insert ("Any consent by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries for the appropriation of land forming part of any common for the purpose of small holdings or allotments shall be laid before Parliament while Parliament is sitting, and if within twenty-one days in either House of Parliament a motion is carried dissenting from such appropriation the Order of the Board shall be cancelled'').—(Viscount Midleton.)


Under Clause 28—and that is the first thing the House should realise, because I do not think it came out in the indictment of my noble friend—commons are placed in a far better position then they have ever been placed in before. Under Clause 1 a large number of them (they are enumerated), including those recreation commons about which my noble friend was anxious, are placed in a special and privileged position, and portions of their land can only be taken if the matter comes before Parliament in the form of a Bill. I think that that, anyhow, should go to the credit of the Bill. That is the first point.

The second point is this, that previously under the old Acts where land was taken in this way by the Board of Agriculture there was no necessity for a public inquiry, but, as you will see under Clause 2, if land is to be taken there is a statutory right to a public inquiry. Therefore a second security is given to commons. My noble friend says that all these commons which come under Clause 2, and are not included under Clause 1, should have the further security that the Order should be placed before Parliament and either House should be able to pass a Resolution against it. Is this necessary, or would it be very advisable? The requirements for which these portions of commons may be taken, after all, are mainly for some allotment purpose, and very often very small portions indeed, perhaps two or three perches of land, are to be snipped off a common. Is it really necessary that all the small administrative acts of this kind should be reviewed? Has Parliament so much time that it is wise to place all these tiny matters before it in order that it may approve or disapprove, as it chooses? Further than that, there would be considerable delay. Some of your Lordships have been complaining about the delay in providing allotments, but if Parliament is not sitting—and for months together it is not sitting—there would be an absolute cessation of activities as regards the granting of these allotments if my noble friend has his way.

I would therefore submit that there really is very great security for these commons. Take what happens. You have, first of all to persuade the county council or the local authority, as the case may be, that they are wanted. Then you have to persuade the Board of Agriculture. Then you have to have this local and public inquiry. Moreover, there is the Commons Preservation Society fully informed of the facts, the whole matter has become public. So that there really is a triple barrage behind which these commons can entrench themselves. I submit, therefore, that my noble friend can tread without a shadow of anxiety, and sleep peacefully as heretofore under the shadow of Hindhead.


I am wondering whether the noble Viscount is really wise in resisting this Amendment. He has spoken as if the only resource for allotments in this country was over these miserable commons. He spoke of how while Parliament was not sitting the whole thing might be held up. Surely that is not so. The great mass of the allotments will not be taken from the commons. The number of allotments involved is not this vast number, most of which I suppose will be taken from ordinary land and not from commons at all.




Surely my noble friend is unwise to contest this sort of point, and I say that in the interests of the Government. Public opinion has been very sensitive about commons for years, and we have always approached in Parliament with the greatest reluctance anything touching commons. Here is a matter which has excited if not the apprehension of the society at any rate that of Lord Eversley.


May I say that I stated in Committee that the society are satisfied with this Amendment, though it is true that Lord Eversleigh is not.


I should have thought that, this apprehension having been excited, it would have been wiser for the noble Viscount to accept the Amendment. It really will not damage his Bill, and it will allay a certain amount of apprehension.


There is one point with which my noble friend has not dealt. He is speaking, of course, for the Board of Agriculture. I do not think he allowed for the great effect of the wholesale appropriation of commons during the war. I believe that has produced rather a disconcerting attitude towards commons on the part of Public Departments, and, therefore, if my judgment only were at stake, I would certainly say that this was a useful Amendment. I cannot help having also a feeling of satisfaction that, if it were put in, it would come as a surprise to Mr. Smillie and his friends to know that your Lordships thought that private land ought to be taken before common land and that we had more regard to the preservation of commons titan to our own property.


If I may say so, I do not think that your Lordships should be influenced in your actions by Mr. Smillie.


I cannot withdraw the Amendment. I do not think that we have the right to deal with these questions in so small a House, and if I am forced to a Division there may not be a sufficient number present to enable us to go on. This is a subject on which there is an immense amount of feeling all over the country, but these matters are brought forward at such a pace that there is not time to inform people that we propose to take a Division.


In the circumstances I do not propose to force your Lordships to divide. I profoundly regret, however, that matters of purely local administration like this, subject to all the new safeguards that have been put into this Bill, should be forced upon the attention of Parliament.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.