§ Amendments reported (according to Order).
§ Limit of expenditure on provision of allotments.
§ 4. 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 Allotments Acts relating to allotments if, in the opinion of the council, the 548 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.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM moved to leave out Clause 4. The noble Lord said: My Lords, on the Committee Stage I moved this Amendment, but in deference to Earl Beauchamp I withdrew it in order to move it again on the Report stage. The effect of this clause is to allow a council to make provision with regard to allotments if in their opinion the expenses of the council would not exceed the receipts by a greater amount than one penny in the pound. I believe that if this clause is allowed to remain in the Bill the result would be that in certain cases, if not in many cases, the council will say: "We can spend a penny rate. Therefore we and prepared to take allotments and let them at uneconomic rents, because we can make up the difference between expenses and receipts by a rate of a penny in the pound." I believe there will be considerable pressure put upon the councils by allotment holders to avail themselves of this provision.
Now Section 16 of the Act of 1922, which it is proposed to repeal, says this:—
A council shall not take any proceedings under the provisions of the Allotments Acts relating to allotments, unless in the opinion of the council the expenses of the council incurred under those provisions (other than such expenses as are hereinafter specified) may reasonably be expected, after the proceedings are taken, to be defrayed out of the receipts of the council under those provisions.
Therefore, there is under this clause an opportunity for the council to take allotments if they think that it is reasonable to expect that the proceeds will meet the expenses. Lord Clinton looked into the clause on Committee Stage and said that if under this clause the borough councils made a loss they could then put it on the rates. That is quite true and because of that I think we should omit Clause 4. This Section 16 is sufficient to give opportunities to the council to take a little risk in the matter.
§ I have no objection to their saying: "We had better take this land because there is a reasonable probability of our being able to let it in allotments," and if that happens to fail, if the idea was reasonable then they can put it on the 549 rates, but if you are going specifically to say they may make a charge of a penny on the rates, then I believe it will lead to pressure on the part of the holders of allotments to obtain their allotments at under cost price, putting the difference upon the rates. I do not know whether I have made the matter clear, but I think in these days, when we are spending money everywhere, in my opinion in quite unwarranted fashion, we ought not to encourage any proceedings which may result in a loss to the ratepayers. I therefore beg to move the omission of Clause 4.
Page 4, lines 23 to 31, leave out Clause 4.—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD BLEDISLOE)
My Lords, I am bound to say I am a little surprised at my noble friend Lord Banbury deeming it worth while to move the omission of this clause, after the most convincing arguments which were used by Lord Clinton in opposition to any such course. I am not prepared to accept the Amendment of the noble Lord, and I most profoundly hope your Lordships will not approve of it. I may remind your Lordships that, after all, the House of Commons have a very special duty vested in them of safeguarding the public purse, and it is a significant fact that, although there are plenty of potential critics in another place of such a clause as this if it is likely to operate to the disadvantage of the taxpayer or ratepayer, there was no criticism of this provision and it passed unamended. Lord Clinton pointed out, and I cannot do better than repeat his arguments, that in fact this clause is not only an enabling clause but, so far as the local authorities are concerned, it is at the same time a disabling clause. Under the law as set out in Section 16 of the Act of 1922 it was open to the local authority to prepare an allotments scheme, including negotiations for the acquisition of land suitable for allotments, and to estimate beforehand what was likely to be the expense to the ratepayers of the locality, and if by chance they miscalculated, and the expenditure, in fact exceeded receipts by a sum far in excess of a penny rate, such rate would have to be levied.
550 This clause limits the potential expenditure out of the rates in any locality to a penny in the pound, not a very generous provision in these days, when, as we all know, a penny rate in most localities is not capable of providing a very large capital sum. In any case I would suggest to the noble Lord, and certainly to your Lordships, that this is not the time of day to interfere materially with the autonomy of the local authorities. I have greater respect for democracy than my noble friend, but in any case, surely, if there is pressure put by a group of allotment holders upon the local authority, and the result is that an expensive scheme is embarked upon, there are plenty of other ratepayers who are going to express their disapproval, and the local authority who are merely representing the ratepayers will take care that the minority ratepayers are not going to put the locality to unnecessary expense. At any rate, I do suggest that this is a matter about which the local authorities feel strongly, and the local authorities can perfectly well be trusted to administer allotments according to the views of those who elect them.
But I should like to anticipate, if your Lordships will allow me, the further Amendment of my noble friend, who desires to omit Clause 5, as well as Clause 4. Clause 5 invites local authorities to exercise an intelligent foresight in acquiring in populous neighbourhoods suitable land to meet their further requirements in the matter of allotments. It is in respect very particularly of such anticipated requirements that Clause 4 is most likely to be put into operation; in other words, where you have got a developing city, with land appreciating in value as time goes on, it is obviously in the best interests of the ratepayers themselves, as well as of the allotment holders, that the local authorities should anticipate future allotment requirements, and, before land appreciates too much in value, obtain it at a reasonable figure. It is bearing very specially in mind that new power for which the local authorities have asked, and which it is proposed to vest in them by Clause 5, that I ask you very favourably to consider the advantages of this particular clause where, within the limits of a penny rate, the local authorities may be able to acquire land for future allotment purposes which they might not be able to acquire if they did not possess this power.
551 The noble Lord reminded me, when I referred to Swindon the other day, that he is a near neighbour of the people of Swindon. Swindon is the great example in this country of the advantages of foresight on the part of a municipal authority in the provision of allotments. These Swindon allotment holders to-day are obtaining, on land which has very greatly appreciated in value, allotments at a particularly low rent because of the prevision of the local authority in anticipating allotment requirements and some years ago obtaining land at a reasonable figure. I hope that your Lordships will not approve of this Amendment, especially in view of the fact that it might operate as a set-back to the development of allotments at a time when allotments are proving to be of very great value, when there is serious unemployment prevalent in the country. After all, there are many men to-day who are not receiving out-door relief because they can fall back on an allotment to provide them very largely with the means of subsistence.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I should like to point out to my noble friend that I think he is mistaken when he says that the effect of this clause will be to limit the amount paid by the council to a penny rate, because the words are—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.Presuming that the council find that it is necessary to raise a twopenny rate, all they would say is: "Well, we reasonably expected that the rate would not be more than a penny, but, though we took every reasonable precaution, we were wrong, and therefore we imposed a rate of twopence to meet the expense." My own opinion is that the section, the provisions of which it is proposed to alter, quite meets the case put by my noble friend, and I certainly will not withdraw. I hope the House will omit the clause.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.