HL Deb 23 May 1939 vol 113 cc78-81

3.9 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill relating to a matter which is no doubt familiar to most of your Lordships, but I must confess it was not very familiar to me when I first had to consider it. The allotments in question are not like the beautiful allotments in which people grow vegetables, and with which we are all familiar. These are allotments which were originally transferred into the names of trustees on the occasion of the enclosure of common lands, which occurred many, many years ago. As your Lordships know, there were rights to take various forms of produce from the commons—such as gorse and heather and, in particular, peat—for the purpose of warming the houses of those commoners. That right existed over commons of a considerable size. Your Lordships will be aware that between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 acres of common land were inclosed in the course of some hundred years and were so enclosed for the purpose of facilitating agriculture. On those inclosures, in many cases, allotments were made called fuel allotments—made, that is, to trustees—for the purpose of enabling the poorer people to use the allotments in order to obtain fuel of the nature which I have described. Time has passed and these allotments, the trusts of which were irrevocable, have frequently become more or less useless for the original purpose.

Various things have happened. In some cases the numbers of commoners entitled to the rights have become very small, or even extinct, in which cases nobody has the right to use these allotments at all. In other cases the people in the neighbourhood have become rich enough to supply themselves with coal and they do not need to cut fuel from the allotments. There are cases in which the land has become derelict and is at present not being used at all. Finally, there are cases where the fuel on the land has become so poor or bad that it is quite useless to the people who are entitled under these trusts to obtain cheap fuel. In the year 1860 there was an Act of Parliament, entitled the Charitable Trusts Act, and in that Act it was provided that the Charity Commissioners could, under certain conditions, make an Order for the establishment of a scheme for the administration of any fuel allotment as result of which the land could be used for the purposes of an open space. In some cases that has been done, but apart from that the Charity Commissioners have no power, nor is there anybody except Parliament that has power, to sell or lease the land for the benefit of the poor, to enable them to get the advantages which were originally designed for them.

In these circumstances for some time past it has been thought that it was necessary to extend the powers of the Charity Commissioners in relation to these particular fuel allotments. They are defined, as your Lordships will see, under Clause 1 (4) as any land which, by or under any enactment relating to inclosure, is vested in trustees upon trust that the land or the rents and profits thereof shall be used for the purpose of providing poor persons with fuel. That which the Charity Commissioners are being empowered to do by this Bill will be found in Section 1 (2), which provides: Notwithstanding anything in Section nineteen of the Commons Act, 1876 which made the trusts irrevocable— any such scheme may provide—

  1. (a) for the sale or letting of the allotment or any part thereof, for the discharge of the land sold or let from any restrictions as to the use thereof imposed by or under any enactment relating to inclosure and for the application of the sums payable to the trustees of the allotment in respect of the sale or lease; or
  2. (b) for the exchange of the allotment or any part thereof for other land, for the discharge as aforesaid of the land given in exchange by the said trustees, and for the application of any money payable to the said trustees for equality of exchange; or
  3. (c) for the use of the allotment or any part thereof for any purposes specified in the scheme."
When the matter was in another place most remarkable instances were given of the way in which some of these allotments, either wholly valueless or almost valueless for the purpose for which the trust was designed, could be now sold for very considerable sums of money for the purpose of building or some purpose of that kind. Though there was at first some little misapprehension, I think, on Second Reading as to the effect of the Bill, when it came up for Third Reading everybody was satisfied that the Bill, when turned into an Act, would be of great use to those particular persons—not, of course, a very large number—who would be entitled to share under a fuel allotment trust. A number of questions were asked as to what the charitable trustees could do in the matter, and I think it is desirable that I should say that the Charity Commissioners can make a scheme for any land of the gross value of less than £50 a year, which is the case in almost every instance of allotments of this kind, at the request of the trustees or of two inhabitants of the parish, and if the land is worth more than £50, per annum the majority of the trustees can make the application. Under the Charitable Trusts Act the Charity Commissioners have to give notice of the proposed scheme in the prescribed manner. Notice is given to any local authority concerned, and in a proper case there will be a public inquiry if there is any substantial objection to the scheme. In such a case any person interested, or such a society as the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, would be entitled to appear and object. I may say that if there were any real grounds for retaining the property in question as an open space, the Charity Commissioners would refuse to agree to a scheme which proposed to deal with the land in any other manner.

The Bill, as your Lordships will know, in form extends the powers of the Charity Commissioners as regards these fuel allotments, but the Charity Commissioners act very fairly with all concerned in matters relating to schemes for the amendment of charities, and great care will no doubt be taken by them that no injustice is done to anybody by this Bill if the land is sold or left pursuant to the powers which it is proposed to confer on them. In these circumstances I hope that your Lordships will have no difficulty in giving this Bill a Second Reading, and I need only add at the moment that if any noble Lord desires any further information, I shall be very happy, as far as I can, to give it. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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