§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD STANMORE
My Lords, this Bill has been prepared with a view to carrying out in Scotland the recommendations of the Departmental Committee that was appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Secretary for Scotland to consider the question of the provision of allotments by local authorities, and to make recommendations as to the best means of securing adequate provision of allotments and improved tenure and security for allotment 912 holders. The Bill follows the lines of the English Bill which has recently passed through your Lordships' House, with the necessary modifications required by the different conditions prevailing in Soctland.
Clause 1 provides that the tenancy of an allotment garden shall not be terminated by the lessor unless he gives the tenant at least six months' notice in writing to remove. To protect the tenant from disturbance in the course of the normal cropping season, such notice is to be given so as to expire on or before May 1, or on or after the first day of November in any year. In cases, however, in which land let for allotments is subsequently required for building, or mining, or other industrial purposes, or for some necessary public service, three months' notice will be sufficient, but if this notice expires between May 1 and November 1 the tenant is entitled, under the terms of Clause 2, to recover compensation in respect of growing crops and unexhausted manure. In other cases the tenant is not entitled, unless the lease contains provision to the contrary, to recover compensation on the termination of his tenancy.
In Clause 4 certain amendments are made in existing legislation with regard to the compulsory acquisition of land for allotments. The principal alterations are that the approval of the Secretary for Scotland to a compulsory order made by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland is no longer to be necessary; questions in dispute on the termination of a tenancy created by a compulsory lease are to be settled by arbitration; the local authorities are to be relieved of the obligation imposed upon them by Section 2 of the Allotments (Scotland) Act, 1892, to be satisfied, before acquiring land for allotments, that that land cannot be obtained by voluntary arrangement between owners and applicants. Clause 5 empowers the town council to enter upon any occupied land, and to adapt and let it for use as allotment gardens, but power is reserved to the owner to resume possession on giving not less than six months' notice to the council. This period is reduced to one month if the land is reasonably required for any other purpose than agriculture. In such cases, if the tenant is entitled to any compensation, he can recover it from the council. Provision is also made for payment of compensation by the council to any person interested in such land in 913 respect of any loss incurred by him as a result of the council's action.
Under Clause 6 the Board of Agriculture may let land acquired by them for small holdings to allotment holders or local authorities or associations for the purpose of being sub-let to allotment holders. Clause 7 empowers a town council working any tramway or omnibus service to charge reduced fares to occupiers of allotments provided by the council when such occupiers are travelling by such service for the purpose of proceeding to or returning from their allotments. By Clause 8 certain limitations are imposed on the expenditure which may be incurred by local authorities in connection with the provision of allotments. Before embarking on a scheme the authority must have a reasonable expectation that the receipts derived from the rents of the allotments (which must be let at the best reasonable rent obtainable) will balance expenditure on them. Certain items of initial expenditure may be omitted from the calculation and may be paid out of the rates. These would include legal and other incidental expenses attached to the acquisition of land, the cost of public roads to or across the allotments, and sinking fund charges in respect of loans raised in connection with the purchase of land.
The rating of allotments is dealt with in Clause 9. Under its terms, where allotments are provided by a local authority, the authority and not the tenant shall be assessed as occupiers. The same arrangement will apply, subject to the consent of the rating authority, to allotments provided by an association. For the purposes of assessment under Section 347 of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, allotments are declared to be arable land. Clause 10 extends to eighty years the period for the repayment of money borrowed by local authorities for the purchase of land for allotments, and provides that money borrowed for this purpose shall not be reckoned as part of the total outstanding debt of the authority for the purposes of any enactment restricting the powers of borrowing possessed by the authority.
Clause 11, which is the interpretation clause, defines allotment gardens as an area not exceeding 40 poles which is wholly or mainly cultivated by the occupier for the production of vegetable crops for consumption by himself or his family, and is not an appurtenance of his employment, 914 or let along with any dwelling-house. In subsection (3) it is provided that where any question arises as to whether land is reasonably required for any particular purpose the question shall be determined, except in the case of land owned by another Government Department or by a local authority, by a certificate issued by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland, which shall be final and conclusive. I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, which I now formally move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Stanmore.)
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
My Lords, it would very much shorten discussion in Committee if my noble friend could tell us whether he will accept the Amendments which have been made in the English Bill, or Amendments on similar lines. There is one point upon which I hope your Lordships will make an alteration, and that is in regard to the powers of the Secretary for Scotland. At present compulsory orders have to be approved by the Secretary for Scotland, but my noble friend stated that in future this will be left to the permanent official in the Department. I think it is most desirable that any compulsory order of such a kind should be issued only by the Minister who is responsible to Parliament. I hope the Government will give way on that point. The question of allotments is not, of course, so important in Scotland as in England. Under D.O.R.A. over 14,000 acres were taken in England, whereas in Scotland only about 300 acres were taken. Still, the Bill is required.
The clause referring to allotments has been taken out of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill, and I suppose some provision will be introduced into this Bill to make up for that. Otherwise, there will be difficulties. It would be a great advantage if allotments and allotment gardens were defined. The noble Lord says they are defined, but in my opinion the definition is not quite clear. I do not think your Lordships will object to this Bill if the Government will accept Amendments on the same lines as those introduced into the English Bill. It would be very useful if a codifying Bill were brought in after this Bill has been passed. Most allotment holders are not skilful in reading Acts of Parliament, and if we could have one simple Act it would be to their advantage.
My Lords, the noble Duke is correct as to the points which require amendment, but on the whole it is quite a useful measure. It gives better security of tenure to the allotment holder; and that is as it should be. There are one or two points which require attention. Under this Bill the Secretary for Scotland is no longer required to approve a compulsory order. In England any order that is made has to go to the Minister of Agriculture, who has a seat in the House of Commons and can be asked any question on what is taking place. It is now proposed that in Scotland the Chairman of the Board of Agriculture should be able to make this compulsory order without the sanction of the Secretary for Scotland. There is, therefore, no one who can be challenged in any way either in the House of Commons or in your Lordships' House, and it is most essential that any official who is able to make compulsory orders should be open to challenge in Parliament, if necessary. That is one of the chief points that require amendment.
There is a definition of allotment gardens in the Bill. I think it is important that there should also be a definition of classes of allotments other than allotment gardens. At the present time you require to look up three or four Acts of Parliament in order to find the information you want. The people who occupy such land are not likely to be in possession of these Statutes. A considerable number of amendments will have to be made, and I hope the noble Lord will give us some indication that he is willing to accept Amendments such as were introduced into the English Bill.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, I desire to ask one question. It is with reference to the inclusion in this Bill of an amendment with regard to allotments held by docks and railways. I think your Lordships will generally approve of doing for Scotland in this matter what has been done in the English Bill, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to give some assurance on this point.
§ LORD STANMORE
My Lords, I cannot give any definite promise that all the Amendments introduced into the English Bill can be accepted in the present measure, but I can say that a number of them will be accepted. Some of them may not be applicable to Scotland. With regard to the question of a Consolidation Bill raised 916 by the noble Duke, allotments are dealt with in such a variety of measures that it is impossible in the present case to undertake anything in the way of consolidation.
§ LORD STANMORE
In the event of this Bill passing into law I think I can promise that next session there will be introduced some measure of consolidation The Government will regard most sympathetically the suggestions made by Lord Saltoun, and as soon as I have seen his Amendments I shall be able to answer him better as to how we can meet him on the points involved. I think I can assure Lord Clwyd that we can meet him with regard to the question he has raised.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.