Page 6, line 7, insert at the beginning the words—
(1) The period during which an order for the compulsory acquisition of land for allotments is, under section one of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, exempted from the requirement of submission to, and confirmation by, the Minister is hereby extended to the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, I beg to move that this House agrees with the Amendment made by the Commons in lieu of the Amendment to which the Lords have disagreed. I may be permitted to say one word again on this subject, and I shall be very brief. As you are aware, the Amendment which has come back to your Lordships' House is in the nature of a compromise, as it shortens the period during which the confirmation of orders shall be unnecessary: To explain the situation again to your Lordships, I may state that the Ministry is at present in occupation of land utilised for allotments which amount in all to something like 14,000 acres, and the Ministry is withdrawing from possession of that land at Lady Day next. The local authorities have been endeavouring to make arrangements for the voluntary acquisition of much of this land for a further period and in a good many cases have succeeded. A good deal of the land was unoccupied land when the Ministry entered, and as such will be subject to the powers given by the Bill for entering on unoccupied land, but there is a very large area that cannot be dealt with in this way and local authorities throughout the country will have the greatest difficulty in providing sufficient land to satisfy the dispossessed allotment holders.
If every order for compulsory acquisition is to be subject to confirmation by the Minister, which involves the necessity of giving notices to enable objections to be lodged and the holding of a local inquiry where such objections are lodged, it will be extremely difficult for the local authorities and the Ministry to get through the necessary proceedings in time to acquire the land by next Lady Day. It is quite an 1112 emergency situation and on this ground I must again urge the House to treat the case as exceptional and to accept the Amendment which extends the period to December 31 next.
§ Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(The Earl of Ancaster.)
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
The Amendment reads as follows:The period during which an order for the compulsory acquisition of land for allotments is, under section one of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, exempted from the requirement of submission to, and confirmation by, the Minister is hereby extended to the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.I think the date when this rule would otherwise expire is August 19.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The question is that this House agrees with the Amendment made by the Commons in lieu of the Amendment to which the Lords have disagreed.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I am rather disappointed that the Minister of Agriculture in another place did not see his way to accept the decision of your Lordships' House last night. I might remind your Lordships that we had before us ten pages of Commons Amendments to the Allotments Bill. I spent many hours going through them, and although there were many of which I disapproved, I decided to move only one Amendment, and that was the one which your Lordships carried yesterday. I have been in hopes, therefore, that as I confined myself to one Amendment the Minister of Agriculture would see his way to accept it, but I understand now that early this morning another Amendment was substituted in the House of Commons. Your Lordships will remember that the Amendment that we were dealing with yesterday extended the power of the local authorities to take land for six months without the consent of the Minister, which would have been till somewhere early in February. The Amendment put in last night by the Commons limits it to December 31, and really the difference between early in February and December 31 is so small that it cannot make much difference.
1113 I do not wish to repeat the arguments that I used yesterday, but they all stand good. Under this Bill allotments committees are set up, and on those committees will serve a very large number of people who have not been elected by the ratepayers but are simply allotment holders. They, no doubt, will put very great pressure upon the local authorities to acquire land in a most arbitrary manner for the purpose of allotments. I therefore feel that I cannot accept the Amendment sent up from another place. I shall accordingly move to disagree with the Commons Amendment, and if I am successful I shall then move that the words "August 31" shall be inserted instead of "December 31."
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I feel, my Lords, that the House is placed in some difficulty by the situation in which we stand. I confess I do not feel that the noble Earl opposite has used language which is of a very convincing character. He tells us that those who are interested in this provision of allotments require this further period of compulsory powers because on Lady Day a certain amount of land which is now occupied by the Government will fall back into the hands of its original owners. That may very well be, but it does not follow that there will not be other land in the market quite sufficiently extensive to satisfy all reasonable requirements. In my own personal experience I have not found that there is any great difficulty in obtaining land. It is not as if those of us who own land were in a position to refuse a good bargain if it is offered to us. Most of us are only too delighted to find purchasers who will give us a good price, and there is no reason in the world why small parcels of land, where the price is a little bit enhanced, should not be obtained. I cannot believe that there is any real difficulty, nor did the noble Earl speak as one who is deeply convinced of the cogency of his own argument.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
There will be in very rare cases. But the broad question is: How long after the war are we to be faced with these exceptional emergency compulsory powers? No one denies that the sooner they come to an end in the interests of the State the better, and the sooner we get back to a normal state of 1114 things, where people buy land in the market, the better; or, if they must have land compulsorily those powers of compulsion should be subject to the safeguards and sanctions which are, normally applied. All that my noble friend asks is that that should be done in this case, and that now that we are four years from the end of the war the compulsory powers should come to an end. I rather hope that the Government will give way. It really is a very unpopular thing to be contending for these out-of-date war powers. D.O.R.A. and her wicked works are all gone into limbo. Then let us, if we possibly can, forget that D.O.R.A. ever existed, and let us lay her ghost. I believe the Minister of Agriculture is the only Minister who hangs on to a shred of D.O.R.A.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No doubt, but we can avoid giving local authorities extra compulsory powers.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
My Lords, I think no one has had more to do with the question of allotments in the past than I have. As a matter of fact I was the first Member of Parliament ever to introduce a compulsory Allotment Bill in the House of Commons. I want to say a word of caution on the other side of the question. I was not aware, until the noble Earl told me just now, that there were 14,000 acres of land already devoted to allotments.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
Then what I was going to say by way of caution is more necessary than ever, because although sometimes allotments succeed, and succeed remarkably well, in other cases they do not, and when I hear that a great deal more than 14,000 acres of land have been taken by compulsion for the purposes of allotments, 1115 I am sure that your Lordships ought to consider very carefully how much you should increase these powers. How many of these allotments are likely to be given up if anything goes wrong either with the season or with the prices of agricultural produce? There is every appearance of those prices falling lower and lower. We know that enormous quantities of land have been bought by tenant farmers at immensely high prices, and what is the result? I do not know, but I am terribly afraid that a vast number of these people will find themselves in a most serious position if the present tendency of prices of agricultural produce continues and the Government treats the agricultural industry in the future as it has done of late.
We were kept here till after Christmas last session but one in order to pass an Agriculture Bill for the purpose of carrying out the different systems of treatment—some four-course, some five-course—which are necessary in arable cultivation. Subsidies were offered, farmers were induced to embark their capital in these courses of cultivation, and the very next session this Bill was repealed. These are very serious questions, and they have been treated in the most light-hearted manner. And, as I know that a vast number of allotments are given up when they are found to be unsuccessful, I think the House would be wise to exercise caution in increasing the number of allotments at the present time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
I believe that a good many of those 14,000 acres of allotments were on unoccupied land.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
In those circumstances I hope that Lord Dynevor and Lord Salisbury will not press this Amendment. Everybody wants to get rid of D.O.R.A., but, if we are going to do the thing, let us do it in a generous way. I hope that the noble Marquess will allow the time to go up to Christmas instead of pressing his objection to its utmost limit, and making the time retrospective to August.
THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I agree with Lord Dynevor that a 1116 large mass of Amendments was made in another place—I think he said ten pages of Amendments. That really was not excessive, because I think we may say that in no single ease did those Amendments depart from the main principles laid down by your Lordships in passing this Bill. The Amendments were modifications, amplifications here and there, a considerable number of drafting Amendments, one or two explanatory Amendments, but each and all of them conformed strictly not merely to the main lines but to the actual structure of the measure as it passed this House.
The question, of course, is difficult, very difficult; but I submit to your Lordships that the other place have met us really very fairly indeed, and if the Government presses, as I think we are entitled to press, that this final Amendment should be accepted, according to our views we do not merely do so on the ground that there is anything material or structural in this change, because there is not. We do so on its general merits. I think that my noble friend Lord Dynevor did not quite appreciate the difficulties which would be involved by accepting his suggested Amendment to the Amendment. He said the difference was very small. Well, I think that is probably true and, relatively, the difference may be small measured in weeks or in months; but the difficulties inherent in that small Amendment, I may assure my noble friend Lord Dynevor, are really very considerable. It is not merely a question of weeks but it is the congestion of work which may be involved by the weeks affected in that way.
I do not think it is quite so easy to get land as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, thinks. He observed that when the price was a little enhanced it ought not to be difficult to find willing sellers. Lord Salisbury expressed—
§ THE EARL OF CRAWFORD—great commercial wisdom and perspicacity in that remark; but people do not always want to pay prices which are a little enhanced and, if he will forgive me for saying so he is looking at this problem from a point of view which is different from the problem as presented to a large number of these allotments committees. The noble Marquess is not thinking about Wandsworth at all; he is thinking about a country village where one 1117 is delighted to provide allotments, where they add to the interests of the little village community, where they give a fresh source of production and construction and personal interest in the production of food, and a hundred and one other good reasons. But that is not where the trouble always occurs, find the noble Marquess will forgive me for saying that some people refuse, and refuse in a manner which adds enormously to the difficulties of local authorities, and, what is more, they refuse in a manner which introduces all sorts of tiresome, vexatious and alien controversies, which is the one thing we want to avoid in this allotment question.
§ The noble Marquess asks how long it is before we are going to end these D.O.R.A. powers. I do not believe that it is any good giving this assurance, but I say from the bottom of my heart, not only on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ancaster and myself but on behalf of my colleagues in the Government, that the continued existence of these D.O.R.A. Regulations and powers is not only a nuisance to the citizens of this country but is ten thousand times a greater nuisance to the Government itself. We are longing to get rid of these Regulations, but when we have tried to do so we have often been pressed by the public not to do it. This Bill is really an honest attempt, and not merely an honest attempt but, I think, a successful attempt, to make progress in that direction.
§ Let me add one further word about the actual scale of the difficulty which is involved. I noted what the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, said, though he did not say anything which is not well known to great numbers of your Lordships—namely, that allotments are excellent things, but that in many cases they are not successful. But here is a case in which we are dealing with 11,000 acres of these allotments. That means anything from 200,000 to 250,000 allotment holders, nearer to 250,000 I should think than 200,000. And these are the successful allotment holders. These are the people who have been working their allotments since the first passing of the Order in the autumn of 1916. These are the people whose efforts have been tried and tested and whose efforts have been successful. These are not the failures and the wash-outs—those have all disappeared in the last two or three years. These are the people who have survived the difficult period—namely, that following the Armistice.1118
§ These are the successful ones, and if we cannot deal with their case, as matters stand these people are going to be cleared out and it will be the province and function of the local authorities to find alternative accommodation for them. We have met your Lordships so fir as we can consistently with justice to the allotment holders and the convenience of the public authorities. Therefore, bearing in mind the fact that the views of this House have been met throughout in so sympathetic a manner, I strongly beg your Lordships to support my noble friend Lord Ancaster and to agree to the Commons Amendment as it has reached us.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, it is very difficult to understand this Amendment which has only been read out at the Table, but, as far as I gather, the only difference between the noble Earl and my noble friend behind me is whether for six months there should be or should not be an appeal to the Minister of Agriculture as to whether these allotments shall be taken by compulsion or not. I am one of those who are entirely in favour of allotments. I have always done all in my power in the matter, as the noble Marquess behind me has done, and I strongly support this Bill. But it does not seem to be unreasonable that if a man's land is taken by a local authority he should have, the right to appeal to the Minister of Agriculture, knowing very well that the Minister of Agriculture will exercise his discretion and, when it is right and proper, grant compulsory powers. There should be that protection and, although I am entirely in favour of allotments and in favour of compulsory powers where necessary, at the same time there are local authorities who might be inclined to be unpleasant, who might pick out some person against who in they had a grudge, and might be unreasonable. In those circumstances, I think there ought to be an appeal to the Minister, who will hold a local inquiry and deal with the question on its merits.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
My Lords, the only point about the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, appeared to me to be that he considered the Bill perfectly useless unless these powers were given, and he asked for them to be given without reference, to the Minister of Agriculture for six months. If this is a good Bill it will be perfectly easy to deal with these allotments in the future. But I notice that it has not been 1119 thought necessary to ask for these extra powers in Scotland.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
In Scotland the powers under D.O.R.A. ended a long while ago, though I forget the exact date, and all allotment holders who held their land under the Defence of the Realm Act had to leave their allotments. In England the Defence of the Realm Act continues till March 25.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.