§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF ANCASTER)
My Lords, before I deal with the provisions of this Bill, to which I am going to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading, 245 I hope I may be permitted to say a few words in order to show what an important matter this question of allotments has become in the country, how closely it affects the lives of so many people, and what interest it is to many thousands of our population. The allotments movement during recent years has been growing to an enormous extent. The figures that we have are not absolutely reliable, because local authorities and others have not always furnished returns, but I think the figures are sufficiently reliable to prove to your Lordships that this matter does concern a very large part of our population.
In 1914, prior to the war, it was estimated that in England and Wales, excluding rural parishes having no parish councils, there were 101,592 acres let to 453,627 allotment holders. On December 1, 1920, which is the latest date for which returns are available, there were 157,620 acres let to 1,163,790 allotment holders; that is to say, that from 1914 to the end of 1920 there had been an increase in the acreage of allotments of 56,000 acres, and in the number of allotment holders of 700,000 persons. I do not think it is worth my while to deal further with the subject, because any of your Lordships knows well that if you take a railway journey of any length through any portion of England or Wales you will see, around almost all our towns, a regular circle or belt of land cultivated as allotments. Nor do I think it is necessary for me to dwell upon the importance of this allotment movement to the people themselves. The Departmental Committee on which I sat had overwhelming evidence of how much these allotments are valued by the present holders, and also of how large a number of people still require allotments.
It is proved conclusively that these allotment gardens provide a valuable addition to our home food supplies; that the vegetables grown upon them are most valuable to the holders and their families; that they provide healthy work and recreation for many men who lead sedentary lives in the towns; and also that they largely tend to eliminate social unrest, especially in times of discontent and unemployment. Further, the fact that allotment holders in no way consist of one class of the population, but include people of all professions and trades who have a common interest in allotments and allotment societies, has the same tendency, as was once said of the hunting field, to bring 246 people together who would not otherwise meet. I will not, therefore, detain your Lordships longer on those two aspects of the matter.
I have no doubt that the first question which will arise in many of your Lordships' minds will be this. You will say: "if the allotments have increased to this enormous extent and things seem to be going on pretty smoothly, why introduce fresh legislation to deal with the matter? Why not leave well done" In order to explain why, in our opinion, fresh legislation is necessary I shall have briefly to explain what happened during the war. Under the D.O.R.A. powers the Ministry entered on a large area, mainly unoccupied land, with the local authorities acting as their agents, in order to increase the food supply of the nation at a time when the country was afraid of starvation. Under the powers of that Act allotment gardens were provided for more than 250,000 persons. In April, 1921, the Minister decided to withdraw as from March 25, 1923, from possession of all lands entered on for allotments under the Defence of the Realm Act.
The first reason that guided the Ministry in taking that course was the difficulty, nearly five years after the signing of the Armistice, of justifying the use of war emergency legislation for the purpose of retaining possession of land for allotments. There was, secondly, the desirability of placing the provision of allotments on a more permanent basis as regards tenure; and, thirdly, there was the necessity of reducing the Ministry's expenditure in the interests of national economy. The Ministry considered that they had held this land quite long enough, and that it was high time that a settlement was made with the owners, the compensation paid up, and the whole matter between the Ministry and the plot holders settled once for all. As your Lordships will remember, the Ministry of Agriculture before the war had never been an allotment authority. The authorities for allotments were the different local councils throughout the country, and we considered that it was high time that we reverted to the old practice; that the Ministry should settle up its accounts at the latest by March, 1923; and that the local authorities should again become the proper authorities for allotments.
The Minister's decision to withdraw from the allotments caused great consternation 247 among the plot holders. They have done exceedingly well. They produced a large amount of food during the time that the country wanted food very much, and there is no doubt that a great many of these men, especially in towns, appreciated their allotments very highly, and desired to retain the land as long as possible, or to obtain other land in place of it. The Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland received a deputation of the National Union of Allotment Holders, who put the case very strongly to the Ministers, and they decided to appoint a Departmental Committee, of which I had the honour to be chairman, to inquire into the whole matter. That Committee contained people representative of all interests. It might be said of it, as I think has been said of a good many Departmental Committees, that we were all rather inclined to play for the interests that we represented. I have often felt that some of the people sitting on these Committees should be in the witness box giving evidence, instead of hearing it, as many of them in this case knew a great deal of the facts of the case, and had formed strong opinions on the subject. The result, however, was highly satisfactory, and it is, I think, some argument in favour of the proposals that I am bringing forward to-day that, in spite of the composition of the Committee, representing different interests, we were enabled —I confess, by mutual concessions—to present a unanimous Report, and no single member entered a word of protest on any point. That goes to prove, I think, that these proposals have received careful examination and embody no very dangerous doctrine.
I will now refer briefly to the chief provisions of the Bill. Let us consider Clauses 1 and 2 together, because it was really on those clauses, which are perhaps the most important in the Bill, that the compromise was effected. The evidence given by representatives of the allotment holders was unanimous on the point that there was a keen desire for security of tenure. It is obvious that the cultivators of allotments would be more likely to make good use of their land, with the result of better cultivation and increased production, if security of tenure were made possible. This security can only be obtained if land is purchased, but, owing to the high capital value of the land in the vicinity of urban districts, where the demand is keenest, it is not possible, as a general rule, for land to be 248 purchased for allotments; it can only be hired, subject to its resumption by the owner if he requires it for building, mining, or other industrial purposes.
Bound up with the question of tenure of what may be described as building land is the question of the payment of compensation to the allotment holder when he has to give up the land, upon the owner requiring it for building. It was fairly clear that, as regards every class of land, the allotment holders would prefer sufficiently long notice to enable them to harvest their crops rather than compensation for dispossession. The Committee had, therefore, to consider what was the best means of enabling the wishes of the allotment holders and the national interest in regard to food production to be met, without prejudicing unduly the interests of the owners of land, the provision of houses, and the general industrial development of towns. The proposals contained in Clauses 1 and 2 are a compromise between the claims of all interests concerned on this point.
In the case of land for allotments not required for building, mining, or other industrial purposes, the basis of the Bill is that the tenant of an allotment garden must receive at least six months' notice to quit, and, moreover, this notice must not expire between March 25 and September 29, which is the normal summer cropping season of allotments. The object, of course, is to enable the plot holder to harvest his crops. As a set-off to this extended notice the allotment holder will no longer be entitled to compensation for disturbance under the Agriculture Act, 1920, or for compensation for crops under the Allotments and Cottage Gardens (Compensation for Crops) Act, 1887, as the six months' notice will, of course, give him time to harvest his crops. Where the owner reasonably desires to resume possession of this land for building, mining, or other industrial purposes, he can do so by giving three months' notice, but in that case he will have to pay compensation for the crops and unexhausted manure, though he will not have to pay compensation for disturbance or for labour.
Clause 1 will not affect the operation of any notice to quit, re-entry made, or proceedings for recovery of possession commenced before the date of the passing of the Act; and, similarly, Clause 2 will not apply to any tenancy which is terminated 249 by the effluxion of time before the date of the passing of the Act, or when notice to quit has been given, re-entry made, or proceedings for recovery of possession commenced before that date. The proposal in these two clauses is an attempt to balance the scales evenly between the parties concerned. In the opinion of the Committee who reported in its favour, it would not have the affect of retarding the development of land or building, and would at the same time give the plot holders a greater security of tenure and would do away with the grievance of their having to turn out in the middle of their cropping season and, after being turned out, of nothing being done with the land.
Clause 4 makes certain amendments in existing legislation as regards the compulsory acquisition of land for allotments. Section 1 of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, provides that an Order for the compulsory acquisition of land for allotments in England and Wales duly made before August 19, 1922, need not be submitted to and confirmed by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Committee heard evidence both from the representatives of the local authorities and the allotment holders urging that this period should be extended in order that the procedure of compulsory acquisition might be modified and shortened. They felt that the time was very short and that if all these Orders had to be confirmed by the Ministry—which always meant that a Commissioner had to be sent down, a public Inquiry held, and other procedure gone through—it would entail a good deal of delay in enabling people to provide land for those men who were going to be dispossessed. Very strong evidence was placed before the Committee that the need for having such Orders confirmed should be put off for another year.
Subsection (2) of this clause facilitates the temporary user for allotments of land of railways and other public undertakings which is not required for the moment for the purpose of the undertaking. I might say, in passing, that the railways have been, perhaps, the very best friends of allotment holders. They have willingly given for the purpose of allotments land which was not required at the moment. It was pointed out to the Committee that land had been bought for waterworks or other public utility services, and in some cases lay waste in considerable stretches. And it was 250 suggested that until it was necessary to erect works upon it, that land, instead of lying waste, should be allowed to be cultivated as allotments.
Clause 5 enables borough and urban district councils to purchase land voluntarily for perpetual rents instead of paying cash. There are cases where the purchase price would be heavy, and some difficulty would be experienced in finding the money to buy the land. If it can he voluntarily agreed this clause permits the allotment authority to acquire the land in that manner.
Clause 6 confers on borough and urban councils practically the same powers as regards unoccupied land as are at present possessed by the Ministry under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, except that in this case the owner is given power to resume possession by giving the ordinary six months' notice, or on one month's notice if the land is reasonably required for any other purpose than agriculture. A large area of land was converted into allotments during the war, as I have already stated, and the proposal in this clause merely enables owners of land which might otherwise remain or become derelict to be used for allotments until they require it for any purpose other than agriculture. Inasmuch as the owner can resume possession at one month's notice if the land is reasonably required for other than agricultural purposes, any objection on that score would appear to be met. We all know that on the outskirts of London there is a large amount of land which has been partly built upon, and that during the war those portions which were not being built upon were cultivated as allotments. The object of this clause is to prevent this land becoming derelict land when, very likely, no building operations would take place on it for another year or two. If the price of building comes down a good deal of this land will undoubtedly be very speedily built upon, and will no longer be available for allotments. At the present moment there seems to be a certain check in the building trade, and it is a pity that men should be turned out of this land until building operations really commence, at a time when the councils are perhaps quite unable to find other land.
Clause 7 restricts the obligation of borough and urban authorities to the 251 provision of allotment gardens of twenty poles. That we consider quite sufficient for allotment gardens in urban areas. Clause 8 requires allotment authorities in boroughs or urban districts to establish an allotments committee and to furnish that Committee with a substantial portion of co-opted members representative of allotment holders. A great many of those interested in the allotments movement were most anxious that a clause such as this should be inserted. They believed it would have the effect of removing the friction which occasionally arose between councils and allotment holders and would tend in that way to the better administration of the allotments. They also believed that claims could be better attended to in certain councils where a rather unsympathetic attitude was taken up by the members of the council.
There is a feeling that there are sonic councils—who are the allotment authorities throughout the country—who would practically turn down every suggestion made by the allotment holders, and really do not put their best efforts forward to try to secure land which really is available and would be suitable. Those who are interested in the allotments movement are most anxious that these committees should be set up. By this means they think that they will get better attention and be able to secure land in certain places where the councils have refused to take any action whatever. There is a proviso in the clause stating that there may be certain boroughs in which it would be unnecessary to insist upon such a committee being set up, and the Minister has power, in those cases, to say that it shall not be insisted upon.
Clause 9 merely extends the power of county councils to let land for allotments. The county council already has power to let land to a parish council for allotments, but it has no power to let allotments direct to allotment holders. By Clause 10 the county council of a borough or urban district working a tramway or omnibus service is enabled to charge reduced fares to occupiers of allotment gardens provided by the council when the allotment holders are using the tramway or omnibus service for the purpose of going to and from their allotments. It was considered by many that in some of our large cities where it was impossible to obtain land at a sufficiently low price to enable plot holders to take up that land, there might be highly 252 suitable land a little distance out of the town, and that if the allotment holders had access to it by means of a cheap method of getting to and from, it would be highly desirable that such land should be purchased, and let to them. This is purely permissive on the part of the council and merely enables them, if such a state of things exists, to give preferential treatment in the way of travelling facilities to allotment holders when they are going to and from their allotments.
Clause 11 readjusts the financial conditions as to allotments, but maintains the principle that the allotment undertaking is intended to be self-supporting. There may, however, be paid out of the rates the legal and other incidental expenses attaching to the acquisition of land, the cost of public roads across the allotments, and the sinking fund charges for redemption of the purchase money. This latter has always been a grievance. I do not know that it is a very substantial one, because it does not really put up the rent of the allotments to any great extent. There has, however, always been a feeling that if the sinking fund is included in the rent the allotment holders are practically buying the land for the council, and that at the end of the term of eighty years, or whatever period the loan is granted for, the allotment holders have really bought the land for the council.
The rating of allotments is dealt with in Clause 12. There was a good deal of difference of opinion as to how allotments at the present time were rated, and apparently there was some difference in various parts of the country regarding the rating of allotments. This clause lays it down that the local authority providing land for allotments may be rated as occupiers and not the allotment holders. Clause 13 extends to eighty years the period for which loans may be borrowed, while Clause 14 deals with a matter connected with the New Forest which I do not think I need explain at the present time. Perhaps when we get into Committee, if we do so, I may make an explanation in regard to it.
There is nothing of particular note to be said in regard to the interpretation clause, though reference may be made to two points, perhaps. In the first part of Clause 15 the allotment garden is defined as an area not exceeding 40 poles which is cultivated by the occupier for the production of vegetable 253 crops. I think that I ought to refer also to an exception in Clause 15 providing that where any question arises as to whether land utilised for allotments is reasonably required by a private landlord for building, mining, or other industrial purposes, the matter shall be determined by a certificate issued by the Minister of Agriculture. To this there may be a certain amount of opposition, but I may say that we here follow the precedent laid down in Section 46 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908. This section provides that where land has been compulsorily hired for allotments the landlord can resume possession for building, etc., if he can satisfy the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries that he requires it for that purpose. In this matter we are following the precedent of the previous Act.
It is not necessary for me to detain your Lordships at any length in dealing further with the clauses of the Bill. To sum up, I may say that Clauses 1, 2, 6 and 8 are the chief clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 gives greater security of tenure to the allotment holder, and enables him to secure his crop. Clause 2 relieves the landowner of the heavy and uncertain compensation he has to pay on resuming possession of his land. Speaking from my own experience, and I think it may also be the experience of many of your Lordships—and we had evidence to that effect—I believe that one of the causes which operates against a landowner being willing to let his land for allotments is the fear that when he wants possession of his land he is liable to very heavy and uncertain compensation. We believe that if this fear is removed, and if it is known that the landowner can resume possession of his land at six months' notice at any time except between the dates I have mentioned, he will be much more willing to let the land for allotments than he has been previously.
Clause 8 is considered of very great importance by both the present and prospective allotment holders. There is a feeling, justly or unjustly, among the allotment holders, present and prospective, that certain councils do not give them fair play, and do not look after their interests. They attach the greatest importance to the allotment holders having a committee set up, on which they would be represented, to place their case before the councils. Of course, anything decided upon by these committees in connection with administrative, legislative or financial matters 254 would have to be sanctioned by the council. Clause 6, which is also of very great importance, allows councils to enter upon unoccupied land which is defined here as land not rated—that is, practically waste land.
The evidence that we had before us showed that in days gone by the allotments question was always considered a rural one. During recent years, however, there can be no doubt that it has ceased to a great extent to be rural, and has become a most pressing and burning urban question. To those noble Lords who would criticise, and perhaps even oppose this Bill, I should like to say that it is of no use, as certain critics have already done, to pay lip service to the value of the allotments movement and do absolutely nothing to further it. I can fully appreciate, and admit, the great difficulty of dealing with the matter, and the difficulty lies in the fact that, unfortunately, where the demand for allotments is keenest the supply of land available is the least. That is the great difficulty we have to face. I do not think we heard any witness who favoured the expropriation of the owner or who wished to obtain allotments by taking the property of other people.
One of the chief causes of irritation among allotment holders has been that after they have been turned off their allotments a few scaffold poles have been dumped down on the crop they were not able to reap and then for month after month nothing else was done. The allotment holder walking to his work would pass his allotment with these scaffold poles on it, and the land lying derelict and waste. It is hoped that such grievances will be remedied by this Bill. Allotment authorities will have better powers to acquire land while doing no injury to owners of property. On these grounds; therefore, I commend this Bill to your Lordships' notice. It is a question which will, no doubt, greatly interest many of your Lordships who have had much experience in the management of land and allotments. In dealing with this matter I hope you will always bear in mind the extreme urgency of the case, and the fact that thousands of people now living in our towns desire these allotments.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Ancaster.)
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I can candidly say that this is the most difficult 255 Bill to read and understand I have ever seen. It is legislation by reference run mad. What we want is a Bill expressing in clear language exactly what the law is to be so that the land owner and every member of a local authority, as well as every allotment holder, may know exactly what the position is. A rather curious provision is inserted in the measure whereby a parish meeting, not a parish council, comes into the Bill with certain powers to act. I should like to attend one of these parish meetings in order to see the faces of the members when they read this Bill and endeavour to make out exactly what their powers are. The epithets that will be hurled at the head of the Minister will probably surpass those at Billingsgate.
Why has not the Minister introduced a consolidating Bill making the position perfectly clear? In order to know how the matter stands it is necessary to study at least eight, if not ten, Acts of Parliament. Why may not people make their own contracts without the interference of the Minister, who, under this Bill, is claiming the powers of a Lenin or Trotsky? The noble Earl who has just introduced it referred to one of the greatest blots on the measure—namely, that it will hold up and impede the building industry. It will be extremely difficult to acquire for building land which has been let for allotments; in fact, it will be impossible unless the Minister gives a certificate. I want to know why the Minister is to give a certicate. The Bill says a certificate will be given if the land is "reasonably required" for building purposes. Why reasonably? If it is required for building purposes it is required for building purposes. Why is the Minister to say it the building purpose is reasonable or not?
Allotments have been provided in many places by many individuals, and in the agreement there is usually a clause which says that the land can be taken back for any purpose other than agricultural. Not a bit of it, says the Minister; only if I give my certificate. The Land Union, on whose behalf I am speaking, has aways been favourable to the creation of allotments. They gave evidence before the Departmental Committee on Allotments and have always laid great stress on the necessity for providing allotments. But they have always emphasised the necessity of being able to re-enter the land when it is required for building. That is not granted in the Bill as an application has to be made to the Minister for his consent. 256 Where the land has been compulsorily acquired, under Section 1 of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, contracts have been made as to getting back the land. Those contracts are all being upset by this Bill. The same remark applies to land, which has been voluntarily let, either to a council or individual. The contract is being upset. I was always under the impression that it was the duty of Parliament to enforce contracts, not to break them. The position is further aggravated by the measure which the Minister of Agriculture is to introduce consolidating certain enactments relating to agricultural holdings. In that Bill allotments are referred to, and now comes this present Bill which will upset the consolidating Bill. I hope my noble friend will agree to hold up the consolidating Agricultural Holdings Bill until the present measure becomes law in order that it may also be incorporated in the Consolidation Bill.
My noble friend referred to the clause which gives the Minister power to say that a borough council or urban district council need not, if he exempts them, setup an allotment committee. I am rather doubtful about that. I should have thought that a borough council and an urban district council would know best whether allotments were required in the district and whether an allotment committee should be set up. Under the Bill an allotment committee must be set up unless the Minister gives an exemption.
The pedigree of this Bill is by confusion out of mystery. Why do the Government wrap up their intentions in such mystery? Why have they brought in what I can only call this confused measure? The position as regards getting back land for building purposes, as my noble friend explained—though I do not think he explained it fully —is, so far as I can make out, as follows. Land which has been taken under D.O.R.A. remains with unaltered conditions, and there is no right of re-entry. If unrated D.O.R.A. lands are required and are in urban districts, then the right of entry is at one month if the Minister gives a certificate, but in the case of land compulsorily acquired under the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, with an agreed clause for re-entry, this can only be enforced with a certificate at a minimum of three months, and the same applies to voluntary agreements, also with a minimum of three months, notwithstanding anything in the contract to the contrary.
257 My point is that it will impede the building industry, if you have to wait for the Minister to give his certificate. We are short enough of houses in all conscience at the present moment, and we do not want another Minister to come and interfere with building. I am thinking of what will happen if an individual buys a plot of land to build a house. He has no certainty that the Minister will grant a certificate. I am assuming that the land is naturally used for allotments. Some of us have had rather bad experiences of Government Departments' methods in replying to letters. Is such a man certain of getting his certificate within three months, supposing there are hundreds of applications coming to the Minister for leave to get hold of the land? I should really like to suggest to my noble friend that he should withdraw this Bill and bring in another in its place, a clear straightforward Bill, so that every one will know exactly where he is. If he does not see his way to do that, I most earnestly press him to give an interval of at least three weeks between the Second Reading and the Committee stage.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend who has just sat down that it is desirable to withdraw this Bill, because it seems to me very necessary that we should proceed with legislation to deal with this question in some direction without delay. I rise, therefore, as a supporter of the Bill. I may say that I have for a very long time taken an interest in the extension of allotments. Anything that I could do in that way was gladly done, because I am of opinion that the extension of allotments throughout the country is a vital necessity to the welfare of our national life as a whole.
There is, however, one point to which I should like to draw attention with reference to the powers given in Clause 4, subsection (2), as they may affect lands which have been let out for allotments by public authorities such as railway companies and dock and harbour trusts. As your Lordships know, these public authorities have in the past freely let land for the purpose of allotments. It seems to me absolutely necessary, when we come to the Committee stage of this Bill, that it should be made clear that there is a distinction between the method of dealing with this class of land and land occupied by individual owners for personal purposes. I do not see why a public authority which has been 258 set up by Parliament for the purpose of carrying out public duties in the interest of trade and the development of commerce should, when they require to resume possession of land for the purpose of developing their business, be obliged to go to the Minister of Agriculture for his consent to do so. I hope, and indeed I feel sure, that the noble Earl in charge of the Bill will give his sympathetic consideration to the point which I have raised when we come to the Committee stage.
Danger is threatened to these public authorities not only by Clause 4, subsection (2), but also by Clause 6. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage it will made plain that there is, and must be, a clear distinction between land let for allotments by a private individual and land let by a public authority which requires it for the benefit of the interests for which it has been set up. I may say that I listened with much pleasure to the very clear statement made by the noble Earl in charge of the Bill in support of the main grounds upon which it is necessary that we should pass it, and I hope that, subject to the necessary Amendments, it will be passed without delay.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, I am afraid I cannot agree with all the opinions to which my noble friend has just given expression. Like him, I am strongly in favour of allotments, but I cannot say that I am very strongly in favour of this Bill. Perhaps I am not sufficiently hardened, and one has no right to express any surprise at the doings of the Government, unless by accident they are consistent, but I must confess I am surprised that the noble Earl has not explained to the House why, on the very same day on which he brings in a Consolidation Bill for agricultural holdings, he should also bring in a Bill dealing with allotments which completely upsets many of the provisions of his Consolidation Bill.
My noble friend, Lord Dynevor, pointed out how enormously complicated the Bill is. I think he might have gone even further, because, so far as I understand the Bill, there are two different kinds of allotments. There is the allotment which is under 40 poles of land or which is let to a public authority or corporation to be sub-let as allotments. Such an allotment comes under the provisions of this Bill, but anything which is even 41 poles in extent apparently comes under the provisions 259 of Statutes already in existence. You have the Allotments Act and the Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation for Crops Act of 1887; you have all the various existing Small Holdings and Allotments Acts; you have the Agricultural Holdings Acts, so far as they apply; and you have the Bill which the noble Earl is, I believe, going to ask your Lordships to read a second time after he has disposed of this Bill.
I should have thought that with ever one million allotment holders in this country it would have been worth while to bring in a simple consolidating Bill dealing with allotments, a Bill which every local authority and allotment holder would have a chance of understanding. The question of allotments has always been a very difficult one. On the one hand, you want to give the holder security of tenure, or, at any rate, compensation for the crops he is growing if the land is to be taken away at short notice. On the other hand, you want to encourage owners of land to let their land for allotments more readily. What are we doing under this Bill? Whatever the contract of tenancy, if that tenancy comes to an end between Lady Day and Michaelmas, however long the notice, compensation for crops is levied on the owner of the land.
There are cases, probably a good many, where vacant land in the middle of cities or just outside cities has been let to small holders on such terms as these: "We do not quite know when we shall be able to undertake building, but as soon as prices come down we shall have to go ahead; in the interval you can use the land for allotments and we shall let it to you at a peppercorn rent, because we are anxious you should grow crops so long as it is possible." No rack rent is charged for that land, because the owners of the land are only anxious to do all they can to assist allotments. It is let on the understanding that they can resume possession at very short notice if it is required for building. Now, if possession of that land is resumed for building between Lady Day and Michaelmas those owners, in spite of the very low terms on which they let the land, will be liable to pay compensation to the allotment holders for the crops growing on that land. I do not think that that is a provision which is going to encourage owners to let their land for allotments in the future.
260 As regards two smaller points in connection with compensation, as I read the Bill compensation is payable to a tenant who commits a breach of contract in his tenancy under Clause 1 (c). If he commits a breach of tenancy and the tenancy is terminated under the paragraph, he still has to be paid compensation under Clause 2. Similarly, where very long notice, possibly nine months or a year, has been given, but re-entry takes place under Clause 1 (b) which speaks of three months' notice, compensation is also payable, apparently. I suggest that that is not equitable, nor is it likely to encourage owners to let their land for allotments.
There is a paragraph in the Report of the Departmental Committee, paragraph 31, of which apparently no notice is taken in the Bill. The Committee pointed out that if the Government were going to interfere with the contract of tenancy some quid pro quo should be given to the owners in consequence. The paragraph reads as follows—The Committee recognise that the proposed interference with existing contracts of tenancy may involve some provision for meeting any alleged grievance on the part of the landlord based on the contention that the rent of the land was adjusted in view of the contract of tenancy containing a power of resumption which was materially more favourable to him than the power now proposed by us.No such provision appears in the Bill.
There is a further strong point against this Bill. The noble Earl in speaking of Clause 4 pointed out that there was very great urgency for the provision of allotments, and that therefore great delay would be caused when application had to be made to the Minister, but he did not point out that under Clause 6, subsection 3 (b) where an owner desires to resume possession of his holding he has to prove to the Minister that the land is reasonably required. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if delay will be caused when application has to be made to the Minister, it is also likely to take a very long time if the owner wishes to resume possession under similar circumstances.
I confess I am surprised at Clause 8. I should have thought that the councils of the borough and urban districts were properly elected bodies, and therefore might reasonably be supposed to represent the views of their constituents. Unless the Minister orders otherwise, every one of these properly elected bodies is to be compelled to appoint an allotments committee. 261 If there was a real desire in any district for allotments surely the urban and district councils might be, and in fact would be, compelled, by reason of the electors' views, to take cognizance of the fact. I think it is advisable that allotment committees should be set up, and power given for the purpose, but that is an entirely different thing from compelling councils to set up a committee whether it is desired or not unless the Minister says that they need not do so.
All through this Bill there seems to me to be a substratum of bureaucracy, and I congratulate the noble Earl upon his optimism in thinking that he is going to get this Bill through Parliament when everybody is talking about bureaucracy, and everybody will see in this Bill an opportunity for continuing officials at the Ministries who might otherwise be dispensed with. I hope when this Bill goes into Committee that your Lordships will consider its various provisions and if the noble Earl does not, as I hope he will, follow the suggestion which has been made to bring in a consolidating measure, that you will ensure that it shall be a simple measure and that everything contained in the Bill shall be such that most of us may be able to understand.
§ VISCOUNT LONG OF WRAXALL
My Lords, may I be permitted to say a very few words with reference to this question? I shall intervene neither as a supporter of the Bill nor, so far as I understand it now, as an opponent. It is a great many years since I was first called upon, as a subordinate member of an Administration, to introduce what I believe was the first attempt on the part of the Government to facilitate the acquisition of allotments throughout the country by passing an Act of Parliament. Since then much water has flowed under the bridge. Many changes have taken place, and the legislation on the Statute Book to-day dealing with allotments is much more voluminous than I think anybody contemplated in those days. What I would desire, with great respect, to urge upon the Government, is the desirability of adopting two recommendations which have come from noble Lords speaking on the other side of the House.
The one which I desire to press with great earnestness is that this Bill should not be taken in Committee until there has been a very considerable interval allowed to elapse. Speaking for myself, I have 262 only had this Bill in my hands for a few hours. That is, of course, my own fault, although I observe that it was ordered to be printed only as recently as April 5. While I have some small knowledge of legislation on this subject and on other subjects, and while I am a practical owner of land, and one who has taken great interest in the allotments question, and in the terms upon which allotments can properly and well be let, I assure your Lordships that after spending a considerable time this morning upon the Bill I have the greatest difficulty in arriving at a clear conclusion as to what will be the exact result if the clauses pass in their present form.
I share the view expressed by the noble Earl who spoke immediately before me. It is to me a most extraordinary thing that, at this period of our history, the Government should seek to impose upon a local authority the obligation to do that which they have never found it necessary or desirable to do in the exercise of their own powers. If a local authority does not think it necessary to appoint a committee, and has not done so, surely it must be clear that there is nothing for such a committee to do, and no need for a new authority to deal with this question in their area. And where a great local authority has omitted to set up an allotments committee and your Lordships pass legislation to compel them to do so, do you believe that that is the way to get good administration, or do you think it is in the least likely to ensure their good will for the objects of this measure? Whatever compulsion you may think it necessary to adopt, surely in the case of local authorities who, as my noble friend said just now, are popularly elected bodies, you can leave it to them to exercise their own judgment as to whether or not a committee should be appointed.
There is another feature in this Bill which I regard with some regret, and that is the constant interference which is permitted by the Minister. It is a mere commonplace now to say that the less interference there is by Government Departments in our local affairs the more likely we are to get on well. I believe that to be literally true. My noble friend, in the clear and able speech in which he presented this Bill, referred to the developments that had occurred during the war, the large areas of land which were brought into productivity, and the great work that 263 was done, alike by the local authorities and by the people. All that is very true. But I do not know whether my noble friend has in mind the practical experience gained by many of us who visited some of these allotments. It is a pure delusion to imagine that all you have to do is to acquire land and let it to the people, and that then everything is sure to go well. There is no more difficult task.
And I am a little anxious about some of the powers in this Bill, among others that which enables local authorites compulsorily to acquire vacant land. I do not know what the Ministry has in mind when it uses that phrase "vacant land." So far as concerns vacant land of an agricultural character, I do not believe there is an acre vacant in the country which it would be worth while to turn into allotments at any time. If what is meant is land in the immediate neighbourhood of towns, or even within towns, which is awaiting development for building purposes, perhaps some of that land might wisely and profitably be utilised for this purpose, but it is a dangerous power to put into the hands of any local body to enable them to take land compulsorily for a purpose of this kind without very considerable safeguards.
I confess I was a little surprised and disappointed at a portion of my noble friend's speech, for I had hoped that he would have given us more evidence of the existence of the difficulties to which he referred more than once in his speech. He described in picturesque language the hardships which fall upon men who, having been in the occupation of land and sown crops, are not allowed to reap them, and are called upon every day, in pursuance of their work, to pass by the land which they have cultivated, the crops of which they have never been allowed to gather. That is a serious state of things, if it exists, but surely we are entitled to ask for direct evidence showing that in certain parts of the country this very undesirable state of things exists. During the last two years I have not been able to take much active part in what is going on outside, but I confess it is news to me that there is any real difficulty in providing allotments to-day. Everybody will agree with the eloquent words which my noble friend used at the beginning of his speech, when he told us of the good which comes from allotments, and the desirability of their wide extension. Yes, if the land is 264 suitable, and if the people to whom it is given know how to cultivate it, and if they will proceed to cultivate it in the proper fashion, then I believe allotments to be a very great blessing. But if, on the contrary, the land is unsuitable, or is let on conditions which are not satisfactory, or let to people who do not know the difficulties of the task which they have taken in hand, we had much better not facilitate the acquisition of allotments, in the general interest of the State.
As I stated, I have risen neither as a sup porter of the Bill nor as an opponent—certainly not as an opponent; but not as a supporter either, because I am not sufficiently satisfied as to what the Bill will do. What I have said I have said as a firm believer in the policy of allotments, and as a cordial supporter of His Majesty's Government in their very difficult position. In my concluding sentence I would urge upon the Government the desirability, in the interests of all concerned, and of the cause which they have at heart, of postponing the next stage of this Bill for such a period of time as will enable us to examine it more closely ourselves, and to ascertain from experts, who know more than we do about it, what is likely to be the effect of these clauses.
My Lords, I am sure we are very glad to see my noble friend, Lord Long, among us, and in restored health. I rise to call attention to one point. I cordially agree with what Lord Long has said as to the difficulty of understanding this Bill, and as to the very great powers it confers. You will notice that Clause 9 begins—A county council may let land—Clause 10 says—A council of a borough or urban district—may do certain things. Clause 11 then says that "a council" may do certain things. Then, when you refer to the interpretation clause, you read:The expression 'council' shall, in the case of a rural parish not having a parish council, mean the parish meeting.The powers conferred in this Bill seem so very grave that we ought to have a clear understanding. No parish council should ever be allowed to use any compulsory powers whatever, but I do not gather from this Bill whether this is so or not. We ought to be very careful in these days, when we want every possible economy in the 265 rates, to see that no power should be given for compulsory acquisition unless there is some strong superior authority. I also cordially support the idea that we should not force allotment committees on local representative bodies. County councils are pleading very strongly to-day for the abolition of what are now hybrid committees, which have been forced upon us during the war. Those Committees are becoming unnecessary, and I think, perhaps, more will be heard about the inadvisability of interfering with the principle of local self-government.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I think I shall be expressing the feeling of the House when I say how glad we are to see Lord Long to-day and with what great pleasure we welcome him and the ripe experience he can bring to aid us in our debates. There are two aspects of the particular question which we are considering—the rural allotment and the urban allotment. My noble friend is equally entitled to speak on both, because he has been Minister of Agriculture and President of the Local Government Board. The occupation of those two great posts, added to his own lifelong experience, makes him an almost unrivalled authority on such subjects as that on which he has addressed your Lordships to-day.
I do not think the noble Earl in charge of the Bill will contradict me when say that it has been introduced more to deal with the urban allotment than with the rural. The urban allotment is a comparatively new feature in our agricultural system, and I do not think that anybody who has followed the growth of the allotment movement in our great cities and urban districts can doubt the great value of the movement. For the first time it has formed some link in agricultural matters between the urban and the rural population. There are now, in our great towns, a small number of voters who have a glimmering of some of the difficulties which confront the farmer in the pursuit of his profession. They know that crops do not emanate from the ground in the same way as a sausage does from the end of a machine. They have learned for the first time, and with surprise, that the elements—the drought and the rain—play an important part in the farmers' fortunes, and they have met, also with surprise, an insect pest of which they had never heard before they began to cultivate an allotment.
266 I am sure that Parliament will always wish to do what it can to support this movement, which arose spontaneously during the war, and really forms such an important link in our agricultural and social system. That being so, this House will be prepared prima facie to welcome with cordiality such a Bill as my noble friend has introduced. But I confess that I think the particular criticism we have heard from my two noble friends behind me, each of whom has evidently studied the Bill very closely, will require a very careful answer from His Majesty's Government. The Bill is obscure. Nobody can look at it even for a few minutes without seeing that it has gone to extravagant lengths in legislation by reference. That is really becoming the plague of our Parliamentary life. To understand this Bill a noble Lord must sit down at the table with about half a dozen Acts of Parliament open in front of him. He must look from the one to the others, from the others to the one, and back to the original draft, and then, unless he has a skilled lawyer by his side, he cannot have the least idea of what the references finally imply. In order to get rid of that very evil in our agricultural legislation His Majesty's Government introduced the Agricultural Holdings Consolidation Bill, which they will ask the House to read a second time to-day. It is, surely, a Gilbertian proceeding on one and the same day to read a second time a Consolidation Bill and another Bill which is going at once to amend and alter the law contained in the consolidation measure.
The case for consolidation in respect of the law of allotments is only less strong than the case for consolidation of the law in respect of agricultural holdings. The noble Earl in charge of the Bill indicates assent to that proposition, and I am glad that he does, because I do not think he could have failed to do so. But look at the position in which Parliament is placed. On the one hand there is an effort to clarify the law and make it intelligible to the ordinary man, and on the other hand the Government are bringing in a Bill which is more unintelligible than even the average efforts of modern draftsmen. On the top of that there is the evil to which my noble friends have alluded, and to which Lord Long has drawn special attention out of his wide experience—this perpetual reference to the Minister, this perpetual interference by a Government Department, even to the extent of leaving it to the Minister to say. 267 whether a borough council is or is not to have an allotments committee. Surely that is interference by Government Departments run mad, and my noble friend is very sanguine if he thinks, in the present mood of Parliament, that such a provision is likely to be found in the Bill when it finally emerges for the Royal Assent. The position being thus, I think the claim made by Lord Dynevor, and backed up by Lord Long, that we should have time before we are asked to go into Committee, is a just one, and I hope my noble friend, in his reply, will be conciliatory in that matter.
§ LORD FARINGDON
My Lords, the noble Earl in his opening remarks complimented the railways upon the way in which they have at all times treated the allotment question. Therefore, I need hardly say that in rising now on their behalf it is not because I wish in any way to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. There are, however, some clauses which will require considerable amendment in Committee if they are to meet our views, and we are of opinion that it is only right to mention them upon Second Reading. The Bill will considerably affect the interests of railway companies in respect of land which they hold under the authority of Parliament for the development of their undertakings. Subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 1 require notice to be given which is of such a length that, in the case of railway lands which have been acquired very frequently with a view to emergencies, would make the works on those lands almost impossible of execution. In paragraph (a) of Clause 1 (1) six months' notice to quit has to be given. If notice was given immediately after September 29 it would mean that a year would elapse before possession could be obtained. The provision in paragraph (b) of Clause 1 (1), which permits re-entry on three months' notice, is subject to some Ministerial authority which we are not under to-day, and which we should regret being placed under in the future. The railway companies have let their allotments on exceedingly short notice. I forget what it is, but the notice is very short in the majority of cases, and the rents have been fixed having regard to that tenure. Where land has been taken in the past compensation has always been paid.
The other clause to which we object very strongly is Clause 4. It repeals, so far as the hiring of land is concerned, the exemption in favour of statutory undertakings 268 contained in Section 41 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act. That repeal we should regret, and in Committee we shall undoubtedly oppose it. The exemption from compulsory acquisition of land acquired by railway and similar undertakings for statutory purposes is a standard exception recognised in a long series of precedents, and we should object to those precedents being interfered with. There are also matters arising on one or two other clauses in which we are interested, but these are Committee points. Nevertheless, we thought that your Lordships ought to be advised on Second Reading of those I have mentioned, and no doubt when the Committee stage comes they will have due consideration at your Lordships' hands.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, in the few words which I shall say in reply I desire to answer what, I think, was the chief objection to the Bill raised by almost every speaker. That objection was that the Bill was complicated and difficult to understand. I am not responsible for the drafting of the Bill, and I admit that there is a good deal of legislation by reference in it. A great many of your Lordships have had previous knowledge of these matters, and have had to deal with them yourselves. It must be borne in mind that when you have to deal with a matter like this, which is already dealt with in a great many other Acts, you must refer inevitably to those other Acts. I do not put myself forward as a Parliamentary draftsman, but I think the only way you can get over the difficulty is to quote the whole of the sections to which you refer. Whenever a question has to be dealt with which is already the subject of a large number of Acts of Parliament it is almost impossible to frame a Bill dealing with that question which does not contain a great deal of reference to those previous Acts. Some of your Lordships spoke about the difficulty of understanding this Bill, but I may say, in passing, that several noble Lords seemed to understand it remarkably well, and I think that perhaps they have rather exaggerated the difficulties of understanding it.
Your Lordships may say: "Why not, instead of bringing in a difficult Bill like this, bring forward a Consolidation Bill?" I made it as clear as I could in my opening statement that at the present moment we are faced with the difficulty that 250,000 plot holders will probably have to leave 269 their plots by March of next year, and it is with the object of making provision for these men, and at the same time helping the acquisition of land for allotments all over the country—but chiefly, however, to provide for the men who will be dispossessed—that we thought it necessary to bring in this legislation. We hope that this Bill may become an Act of Parliament during this session and thus another Act will be added to the numerous Acts already dealing with allotments. In that event, we should next session bring in a Consolidation Bill. I think it would hardly be wise to bring in such a Bill at this moment. It was one of the recommendations of the Committee that the law relating to allotments should be consolidated, but we thought it best that we should first bring in this Bill, which will make important alterations, and then, if this Bill received the sanction of Parliament, bring in a Consolidation Bill next session dealing with the whole question of allotments.
May I say one word in regard to the complaint that it is the Minister who is left to decide the question whether land is required for building or other purposes. In the definition clause—Clause 15—the subsection says—Where under this Act any question arises as to whether land is reasonably required for any particular purpose, the question shall be determined—"Where any question arises" means that if the council or allotment holders think that they are simply being dispossessed at the whim of some person, or at the whim even of a railway company, they should be able to say: "We should like to have some evidence that the land is reasonably required." I think that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred no question will arise. The person who requires the land will write to the council and say: "I want to resume possession of my land. I am going to begin building." Or the railway company will write and say: "We want to resume possession of our land, because we want to begin making a siding." In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred no question will arise. I fully admit that it is one of the difficulties we have to overcome, and I am the last person to say that the best authority to decide is the Minister mentioned in the Bill. It is a matter which very properly can be discussed in Committee, when we can hear all the views, and we may come to the conclusion that there is some other and 270 better authority. I think myself that there must be some court of appeal in this matter.
I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, who voices the views of the Land Union, that we received valuable assistance from the evidence which the Land Union gave us. I have the advantage also of having received the Land Union's journal. The evidence, so far as I recollect it, was that the Union thought it was right and proper that arty vacant land or any land that was not required immediately for building should be temporarily used for allotments till it was required.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
That was the view which the Land Union took. Taking the statement of the evidence published by them, the only question on which we differed, so far as I can recollect, was that their evidence was to the effect that the proof that the land was required for building, or for these other purposes, should be that the owner must inform the council in possession of the land that he wanted the land because some one was prepared to pay more than 25 years' purchase for it. That was their suggestion of the way to get over the difficulty. It was carefully examined by the Committee. and we came to the conclusion that that was not a very sound method.
I will quote only one example. Take the case of the land to which the noble Viscount, Lord Long, referred—the land in districts which are already being built upon, and where there is still a certain amount of waste land not immediately required for building. Much of that land is defined in the Bill as land which has no rateable value. The value of that land is nil so far as rates are concerned. Consequently, the council may enter thereon and pay no rent whatsoever. But if some one should come along and say that he has an offer of, say, 5s. per acre for the land, then according to the Land Union, he would be able to enter on it and get rid of the tenants. That is hardly a sound suggestion, and the proposal in the Bill is considered the best in the circumstances. This is a question on which your Lordships are well qualified to give an opinion and I have no doubt it will receive careful attention in Committee.
With regard to the other point that has been raised—namely, the settling up of allotments committees, I fully recognise 271 there is a difficulty, and it will be perfectly open for noble Lords to move Amendments on that subject in Committee. I still emphasise the point that there is a very pressing demand on the part of allotment holders that these committees should be appointed. They feel that in many instances councils which are unsympathetic to allotments find every device they can in order to avoid getting the land, and they put great stress indeed upon the provision. It is a matter which, of course, can be debated in Committee. The noble Viscount, Lord Long, was doubtful whether it was wise to place these men on the land. I think he said it was not wise unless the men knew something about land. That is true to a certain extent, but our experience and the evidence go to show that an enormous number of townsmen who have these allotments have made a tremendous success of them. The amount of vegetables and food they have produced is perfectly wonderful. One of the objects of the Bill is to get over the difficulty which will occur in March, 1923, when many of these men will have to quit. At least 90 per cent. of these men who have been in occupation of their holdings for several years have shown by their management that they are capable of making them a success. It is really the need of meeting these cases that has prompted legislation in this direction.
I do not think it is necessary for me to refer to the other points which have been raised. I have endeavoured to answer, briefly, the chief criticisms that have been passed, and I hope your Lordships will be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading. Several noble Lords have expressed a desire that the Committee stage should not be hurried, and, of course, I am quite willing to fall in with that suggestion. In the circumstances it would be better, if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading, for me to postpone putting the Committee stage down for any particular day until I have consulted with noble Lords who are interested as to what day would be most convenient. We should, of course, like to get the Bill through this House so that it could go to another place before Whitsuntide.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.