§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD BLEDISLOE)
My Lords, the object of this Bill is to increase the number of allotments and at the same time to increase the security of the tenure of the allotment holders. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Captain Bourne, the Member for the City of Oxford, to whose skill and tact in piloting this measure through that House I should like to pay a well-deserved tribute. In its original form the Bill was carefully considered by the Allotments Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, of which I am the Chairman, and its present form largely meets the views of that Committee. On that Committee, I may incidentally say are represented not merely different classes of allotment holders, both rural and urban, but also representatives of the local authorities and of the land-owning interest.
The objects and the general trend of the Bill received unanimous approval in another place, but many of its original clauses were deemed impracticable from an administrative standpoint, with the result that considerable Amendments were made both in Committee and on Report in the House of Commons, with, 161 the result that it is, I believe, now practically an agreed measure. This being so, and in view of the great enthusiasm with which this Bill was received in another place, the Government have decided to take over the carriage of the Bill. I should like to say that I am particularly pleased that it falls to my lot to submit it to your Lordships' consideration and for this reason: I have long held the view that the allotment movement is the most live, the most promising and, nationally and presently, the most important land cultivation movement in this country. Apart from would-be allotments there is practically no real land hunger, as is sometimes alleged, in this country. There is hardly what I would call a land appetite except, possibly, in parts of Scotland, but there is, in and near the large centres of population a very real demand for small areas of from ten to twenty perches of land for the cultivation of vegetables, a demand, which, after allowing for some small abatement since the termination of the War, appears to be persistent and continuous.
A great impetus was, of course, given to the allotment movement for purposes of food production during the War. A large number of apparently worthless sites, seemingly mere rubbish heaps, were cleared during the War round London and other large cities and were cultivated, and good vegetables and other produce were raised upon them. The Ministry of Agriculture, under what are popularly known as the D.O.R.A. Regulations, acquired land compulsorily, but temporarily, for allotments for this purpose. In 1914 there were no more than 580,000 allotments, occupying 130,000 acres. In 1920 that number had risen to no less than 1,330000, occupying 185,000 acres. In 1923 (the last Returns that we have) the number had fallen slightly to 1,190,000 allotments occupying 170,000 acres. Allotment holders, your Lordships will notice, have more than doubled since 1914, but the acreage under cultivation has only increased by 13 per cent., which Thaws clearly that the demand for allotments has considerably exceeded the available supply of land. The area under allotments in this country is not excessive when compared with Continental countries. For instance, France 162 has no less than 3,500,000 acres under allotments, or twenty times the area which is so cultivated in this counry.
The allotment movement was originally a purely rural movement, but now it is preponderantly an urban movement and, I submit, an extremely healthy movement which deserves, and should receive, encouragement from all those who have at heart the true interests of the nation. In the first place, it provides healthy and productive recreation which is suitable for persons of all ages; in the second place, it enables, in the aggregate, a very considerable amount of food to be grown at home which might otherwise be raised abroad; thirdly, it establishes a healthy sympathy—and all agriculturists in this House will, I am sure, recognise this fact—between the town and the country side. It enables large numbers of the urban population to understand and appreciate the point of view of the agricultural community. Fourthly, it develops a manly self-respect and a self-reliance which enables the cultivator, who is, as a rule, occupied as a paid servant in other employments, to occupy with success an independent position in his after-life. And I may say, incidentally, that it enables many of them to pass on to small holdings and to become very successful smallholders and their own masters in that position.
Then it tends by self-maintenance to mitigate the serious effects of widespread unemployment. We have reason to know that to-day, during a period of very abnormal unemployment, there are a very large number of people who would be thrown upon the rates and would be otherwise receiving eleemosynary assistance who are able to hold their own as the result of occupying allotments on the outskirts of the large industrial towns. And lastly—and I want to emphasise this—it is of very special value in promoting a feeling of contentment and counteracting much of the unrest which, unfortunately, prevails in populous industrial areas, particularly when industries are depressed and unemployment, is acute.
I should like to refer to a very interesting experience which I had in 1921, when I was occupying the position of President of the Bath and West Agricultural Society on the occasion of its Bristol Show. I was 163 asked to distribute the prizes to the successful allotment-holders—holders of an area under cultivation for allotment purposes of not less than 105 acres just outside the great City of Bristol separated into a large number of different estates, the allotments being no more than ten perches apiece. I think there were something like forty different prize-winners, and on the occasion of the distribution of these prizes almost every prize-winner wanted to make a speech. The proceedings were naturally of some length, but the trend of those speeches was all to the same effect. I may quote one by way of illustration. A sturdy old man, who had been out of employment for some time previously, told the assembled multitude that he had been a Bolshevik and a preacher of revolution for some years before he found himself in occupation of an allotment, and he went on to say that all those stupid ideas had entirely vanished from his mind from the time that his nose had been brought nearer to mother earth. Similar speeches were made by a considerable number of other prize-winners on that occasion. If only some of those who are so vociferous in opposing extreme revolutionary propaganda would turn their minds to promoting the development of allotments, I am bound to say that in my judgment they would be doing far more good, and far more good of a lasting and constructive character. At any rate that has proved to be the experience round many of our large industrial centres, such as Bristol and Birmingham.
The contribution of allotments to the national food supply is very considerable—much more than is sometimes imagined. The amount available from any particular allotment depends mainly on the energy of the cultivator and his ability to apply technical knowledge to plant-production, but the Ministry of Agriculture have made certain tests recently in order to ascertain how much produce can reasonably be obtained from a well cultivated allotment, and they found that a ten-perch allotment is capable of providing as much as 10 cwt. of vegetables without any serious difficulty. This, we estimate, is sufficient to provide a family of persons with potatoes for seven months of the year, with their peas, beans, and other leguminous crops for half the year, and green crops, such is cabbage and kale, all the year round.
164 Generally speaking, the allotment holder provides food only for his own household, and only in comparatively few cases are allotments cultivated with a view to the sale of the products. If the present allotments were cultivated as well as these model allotments the total contribution of the allotment movement to the nation's food supply would be at least half a million tons of food a year—no mean contribution, I suggest, especially in times of serious emergency.
Your Lordships will remember that a Departmental Committee was set up in 1922 to consider the possibility of extending and developing the allotment movement. It was presided over by the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, who then occupied the position which I now occupy, and many useful recommendations were made for an extension of the law relating to allotments. Many of those recommendations were embodied in the Allotments Act, 1922. This Act seems to be working satisfactorily, but it is not quite adequate to meet the situation or to allay the feeling of insecurity of many of the best type of allotment holders. It is not always easy to reconcile the interest of the allotment holders with those who desire to see a full provision made in the neighbourhood of towns for recreation and also, especially, for building, and it has to be admitted that at least as regards building nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of satisfying the national need for houses on the most suitable sites.
Anxious as I am to see an increase of allotments all over the country, I do venture to hope that allotment enthusiasts will not press their claims in such a way as to alienate the good will of the local authorities, especially those of our large industrial towns, where it is often very difficult to obtain land, particularly for building sites. The lack of sympathy of such bodies does very much harm to the spread of the allotment movement. I claim for this Bill that it gives due consideration to the views of the allotment holders on the one hand and to those of the landowners and the local authorities on the other, and carefully holds the balance between apparently conflicting interests. At a recent meeting of the National Council of Agriculture, where representatives of different classes of the rural community were assembled from different parts of the country, a 165 resolution was passed unanimously approving of the provisions of this Bill.
May I shortly give your Lordships the gist of the various clauses of this Bill, which is a short one, and then I will ask your Lordships to be good enough to give it your support? Clause 1 defines an allotment in the same way as the Allotments Act of 1922. That is, land not exceeding 40 poles in extent, wholly or mainly cultivated by the occupier for the production of produce for consumption by himself or his family, or, secondly, any parcel of land of not more than five acres in extent cultivated, or intended to be cultivated, as a garden or farm or partly as a garden and partly as a farm.
Clause 2, which is the most important in the Bill, authorises the Public Works Loans Commissioners to tend to an approved society up to two-thirds of the purchase price of land which is to be used as allotments. The amount of interest payable is to be determined by the Treasury and the loan is repayable within a period which is not to exceed 35 years. An approved society can only dispose of land if authorised by a resolution passed by two-thirds at least of the members present at a meeting of the society convened for the purpose. It is also subject to the consent of the Commissioners. I should like to say, in passing, that these allotment societies are doing a great deal to extend usefully the allotment movement and to develop it on much more business lines than it used to be conducted upon in former days. From the landowners' point of view they have now the great advantage of these societies paying an aggregate rent and taking upon themselves the whole responsibility for the discipline and working of the allotments under their control. They have rules of their own which, of course, prevent allotments being neglected and deserted to the detriment of other allotment holders. Speaking, generally, it has put the whole movement upon a much more disciplined and businesslike footing.
Clause 3 provides that a local authority, in preparing a town-planning scheme, shall consider beforehand what provision ought to be included for the reservation of land for allotments. Those towns that were sufficiently far-sighted to realise that there would be such a demand are nowadays, if they are extended, in a very much stronger position than those that 166 did not exercise that foresight. I should particularly like to refer to the town of Swindon, which is as well-equipped is the matter of allotments as any town of its size in the country, although it has increased to an amazing extent in population during the last thirty or forty years.
Clause 4 enables the council of a borough or urban district to incur expenditure out of the rates for the provision of allotments, provided that the amount does not exceed a rate of one penny in the £. At the present time a council cannot purchase land for allotments unless it is anticipated that all the expenses, other than those relating to the acquisition of land and the making of public roads and sinking fund charges on the loan for the purchase money, will be defrayed out of the rent of the allotments.
Clause 6 modifies the provisions of Section 10 of the Act of 1922, under which an owner who desires to resume possession of unoccupied land, possession of which had been given by a local authority, was required to give not less than two months' notice in writing where the land was wanted for any purpose other than agriculture. This clause provides that the two months' notice shall be increased to three where the land is required for any purpose other than agriculture, sport or recreation. If cultivated land is required for sport or recreation the period of notice shall be six months and such notice shall only be given outside the cropping season; that is, on or before April 6 or after September 29. I thought I ought. to point out, if there is any criticism of this clause, that unlike the ordinary farm tenant under the Agricultural Holdings Act, the allotment holder, although he may have put a good deal of fertiliser into his land and there may be considerable unexhausted improvements, is wholly unable to obtain the value of those unexhausted improvements as, of course, the tenant of agricultural land is able to do. Section 10 of the Act of 1922 provided that the tenant of a local authority, on giving up possession, was entitled to compensation unless it was otherwise agreed in the contract of tenancy. In point of fact, in nearly all cases it was otherwise so agreed, with the result that the allotment holder did not, in fact, receive any compensation when the land was required for building or other purposes.
167 Clause 7 provides that where the rent payable by the allotment holder is more than 3d. per pole or perch—that is, a mere nominal rent—the tenant shall be entitled to compensation notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary. He cannot contract out of it. The clause also provides that a council may, within three months of the passing of this Bill, give notice in writing to the tenant reducing the existing rent to the amount of 3d. per pole or perch so as to obviate the payment of compensation. I do not know whether your Lordships realise exactly what that means. It is still open to the local authority, if they choose, to relieve themselves of the obligation of compensation by reducing the rent of the allotment holder to a mere nominal amount.
Clause 8 provides that where land has been purchased for use as allotments by a local authority the local authority cannot dispose of the land for other purposes except with the consent of the Minister of Agriculture, and such consent must not be given unless the Minister is satisfied either that adequate provision will be made for the allotment holders displaced or that such provision is unnecessary or not reasonably practicable.
Clause 9 proposes to amend Section 11 of the Act of 1922. Under that section notice in writing of the purpose for which resumption of the land is required must be given by the owner to the local authority or the allotments association to whom the land has been let, and the local authority or the association may serve a counter-notice within ten days demanding that the question as to whether resumption of possession is bona fide required for the purpose specified in the notice, shall be determined by arbitration. The purport of this clause is to extend the period of time for such a counter-notice from ten to twenty-one days so as to give the tenants on the land adequate time to assert their rights if they wish to do so.
Clause 10 provides that the assessment for rates levied on allotment land cannot he increased during the first three Years of user as allotment ground. Clause 11 enables an approved society to whom allotments are let to require the eating authority to rate the society and not the individual allotment holder. Clause 12 provides that a local authority must set up an allotments committee where the 168 total number of allotments provided by the council exceeds 400, even though the population may be less than 10,000. Your Lordships will remember that under the Act of 1922 there had to be a population of at least 10,000 before it was obligatory upon the local authority to set up an allotments committee of that authority. Finally, Clause 13 requires local councils to notify to the Minister of Agriculture the purchase price or rent agreed to be paid for land purchased or leased for allotments, and also to state the assessment for rating purposes al the date of acquisition.
I must apologise to your Lordships for going into all these details, but I felt hound to do so because it is only three years since your Lordships had an Allotments Bill before the House and the alterations which are sought to be effected by this Bill are to a large extent modifications or alterations of the Bill to which your Lordships then gave your assent. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill and to hope that as this measure has been received with greater unanimity than any measure introduced in the House of Commons during this Session your Lordships will afford it like support.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Bledisloe.)
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, the noble Lord will not be surprised that I give my very hearty support to this measure, having been connected with the same Department as himself which has always recognised the extraordinary value and the necessity of allotments for the completion of the life of the rural labourer. Not only are allotments required for the rural labourer. During the War urban populations and councils came to recognise that an allotment to the town-dweller is equally beneficial, and with the help of such a Bill as this it is possible to obtain such allotments.
There are, however, one or two little things in the Bill which strike me as rather curious. One is in Clause 8 where it is said that the Minister of Health shall not give consent unless he is satisfied. I do not know how you are to get the Minister to do that. Another thing is that the borough council shall once in the year take into consideration the question whether it can include a fresh scheme of allotments. What is to 169 happen to the borough council if it dues not do that? It seems to me a little curious to put into law provisions of that sort. In my view it would be very difficult to enforce such provisions. They may probably be taken as counsels of perfection.
Another point in the Bill that I should like to refer to is with regard to rating. There is a provision that the allotment shall not be rated for three years at a higher value than that at which the land was rated before the allotment was started. That really is a wrong way of dealing with the matter. The allotments are generally taken up on unoccupied land in the neighbourhood of a town which ought to be rated higher than it is, and it happens that when that land is now taken up for allotments the rates are immediately put up; and the allotment holder has hitherto had a grievance. I very much prefer that that anomaly should be dealt with in a proper Way by providing for the rating of unoccupied land. However, we must be thankful for small mercies.
We must be thankful that the allotment holder is to be protected against a sudden increase of rates upon what he regards as his improvement. When this happens in a neighbourhood like Beading, adjacent to land which has been taken up by Sutton & Sons, the well-known seed people, you will have such firms complaining that their rates have been put up while the adjoining land devoted to allotments has not had its assessment increased. These ape little anomalies and I do not know whether we can ask the noble Lord to remedy them.
Finally, as the noble and learned Lord stated, this Bill received the enthusiastic support of all Parties in the House of Commons. Although, a few months ago, the Labour Party was told that the present Government was going to buttress the nation against the inroads of Socialism and Bolshevism by establishing a greater number of vested interests in land, the only trace that I saw of that in the noble and learned Lord's speech was his quotation of what an old gentleman said that he had been wheedled from being a Bolshevik by having an allotment. So far are my Bolshevik friends from being afraid that this Bill will tend to convert their supporters to the Party of my noble 170 friend opposite, that they themselves moved a great number of Amendments in another place with the object of giving increased powers and facilities to local authorities to establish more allotments. I am not at all sure that I shall not, in Committee on this Bill, see whether your Lordships are not prepared to increase the facilities for giving allotments under it. As it is I give the Bill my hearty support.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I have been asked to say that we on this Bench are in general agreement with the provisions of this Bill, and that we shall do everything we can to facilitate its rapid progress through I his House. But I must say that I cannot agree entirely with the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture that this is an entirely non-controversial Bill. Originally it was a Private Member's Bill introduced with the support of His Majesty's Government. When introduced it had only eleven clauses, but since then it has been turned into a Bill with some fourteen clauses. A great many alterations have been made in the original Bill. When it came before a Standing Committee in another place it occupied five days in that Committee, and many Amendments were moved. When my noble friend says that it is now practically an agreed Bill and that everyone is satisfied with it—he may have better means of knowing than I have—I should like to draw his attention to the fact that I have had communications from a body well known to the noble Lord—I refer to the Bristol District Small-holdings Allotments Federation, which has some 6,000 members—which complains that the Bill has been whittled down in another place, and they have asked me to move Amendments, into which I shall not go to-night, because they are not satisfied with the Bill as it now stands. They prefer the Bill as it was originally introduced, and especially that part of it dealing with compensation.
We have the fullest sympathy with allotment holders and we desire to do everything to improve and nothing injure this Bill. I quite agree with the noble Lord that it is of the greatest importance to get urban districts to cultivate allotments. I can myself bear witness to the good it has done in such places as Bristol arid other great towns Men have told me what a boon the allot- 171 ments have been to them. Everything we can do to foster a feeling of friendliness between the urban and rural districts, and to increase the number of voters of this country who have an interest in the land, we should do, because it will tend to stability. Those for whom I speak will support the Second Reading of this Bill with this caveat, that we should like in some way to give, if possible, greater facilities for the acquirement of allotments.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I am glad to hear from my noble friend Lord Bledisloe that this Bill is going to do so much. I am also glad to hear that the surest and simplest way of converting a Bolshevik is to let him an allotment, though I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Olivier—I do not want to misrepresent him—who is on very intimate terms with the Bolsheviks, that he does not think the letting of an allotment to a Bolshevik would have that effect.
§ LORD OLIVIER
I am on intimate terms with the Labour Party, who were described at the last Election by the noble Lord's friends as Bolsheviks.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I should be very pleased to subscribe a sum of money towards the letting of an allotment to the noble Lord if I thought by so doing I could convert him to sane political principles. May I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House whether we might not, at some time or other, have a Bill from the Government which does not spend money? I do not want to ask him to bring in a Bill which will save money. That, I think, is beyond all hope. I would like to ask whether it is not possible during the remainder of the time this Government is in power that no Bills causing expenditure shall be introduced. If your Lordships will look at Clause 2 you will see that money can be advanced by the Treasury to approved societies—
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Oh yes, there is something to be said for that provision; and I suppose it is due to the strong Conservative instinct of the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe. But in Clause 4 the noble Lord forgot his Conservative 172 instincts, and this is what this Clause provides:—Notwithstanding the provisions of Section sixteen of the Act of 1922 the council of any borough or urban district may take proceedings under the provisions of the Allotment Act relating to allotments if, in the opinion of the council, the expenses referred to in such section may reasonably be expected, after the proceedings are taken, to exceed the receipts of the council under those provisions by no greater amount, than would be produced by a rate of one penny in the pound.Another burden upon the ratepayer!
Then, when we come to Clause 5, we find this—The council of a borough or urban district may acquire land for allotments, notwithstanding that the land or any part of it cannot immediately be let in allotments, provided that the Minister of Health is satisfied, after consultation with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, that there is reasonable expectation that the land will eventually he required for allotments.That really is speculation in land and I do not know that the Minister of Agriculture is more likely to be successful in land speculation than the ordinary person. I sincerely hope that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will try not to spend any more money for some little time to come.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I am in favour of allotments and I give my support to this Bill. Owing to certain changes which were made in the Bill in another place it has now become a workable measure. I hope my noble friend Lord Bledisloe will have a smooth passage for the Bill through your Lordships' House and that the noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, will not give him too much trouble.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, the Bill has been so unanimously approved and received with such enthusiasm from every quarter of the House that there is nothing I need add except to thank your Lordships for the way you have received it and assure you that any Amendment which Lord Strachie or any other noble Lord may put down for the Committee stage will receive every consideration. At the same time I hope we shall not attempt materially to alter the provisions of the Bill, because they were thrashed out in detail for several days in Committee in the House of Commons and by the time the measure emerged 173 from the House of Commons there was a general agreement that it was a Bill which should receive the Royal Assent. I am glad my noble friend Lord Dynevor, speaking for the Land Union, has expressed full approval of the measure. They are a very vigilant body and very tenacious of the justifiable claims of the landowners. If, speaking for the union landowners, both urban and rural, he is able to say that he is prepared to give it his assent, it should go a long way towards smoothing the passage of the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not know what date is most convenient to noble Lords to take the Committee stage, but we thought of putting it down for next Wednesday.