HL Deb 15 June 1950 vol 167 cc755-65

6.7 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill of fourteen clauses and one short schedule makes a number of amendments in the law relating to allotments in Scotland and includes a provision about the domestic keeping of hens and rabbits. As your Loraships know, the allotment movement tends to come into greater prominence in time of war, and at the present time it is passing through a transitional period as war-time conditions disappear. I have been looking at the statistics of the number of allotments in Scotland since the First World War. The figures for the earlier part of this period relate only to local authority and private allotments. They show a peak figure of 42,000 in 1918. This figure fell rapidly and though there was some subsequent rise again in periods of heavy unemployment there were less than 20,000 before war again broke out. The necessities of war again led people back to the land to produce some of their own food, and the years 1942 and 1943 saw allotments in these classes reach a new peak figure of 54,000. With the addition of railway, education authority and service allotments, the grand total in 1943 exceeded 83,000. Since then the numbers have fallen, local authority and private allotments numbering about 33,000 last year and the total number of allotments being about 44,000.

I am sure there will be no doubt among your Lordships of the importance of home food production and of our need in this country to husband and expand our resources for this purpose. We should, however, now be looking at the allotments movement not merely from the point of view of immediate necessities. The allotments movement has a place in our community apart altogether from the existence of emergency conditions or limitations on food supply. It seems to me to be good that in a highly industrialised country such as this we should take positive steps to enable those who live in towns and cities to maintain some contact with the soil and that all who have the inclination should also have an opportunity to cultivate gardens and allotments. There are many allotment schemes in Scotland which give ample evidence of the interest and pride with which the holders assist nature to yield her bounties. Allotments provide not merely a supply of fresh vegetables for the families of the holders—important as this is—but also a healthy occupation and permanent creative interest.

In promoting the Bill which is before the House to-day, therefore, the Government have had in mind the permanent place of the allotments movement in our peace-time society. In the light of the representations which have been made by the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society certain changes in the law regarding allotments appeared to be desirable. The Bill makes no sweeping changes, but it does set out to improve the existing law in a number of ways.

It is, I think, true to say that the question which is uppermost in the minds of allotment holders to-day is the question of security of tenure. During the war, of course, many temporary and emergency allotment schemes were set afoot and many of these have come, or must come, to an end. Where schemes of this character have to be closed down I think the situation is generally understood and accepted. Where, however, an allotment holder has settled down to work in what is to all appearance a permanent allotment, it is impossible not to have sympathy with him if he finds that some unforeseen circumstance involves the diversion of the land to some other use. He may be able, of course, to transfer the scene of his labours elsewhere, but even so he loses the value of the improvements that his care and industry have made in the soil. It is natural, therefore, that there should be a desire among allotment holders for a greater security of tenure.

To meet this desire in full, however, presents serious difficulties. We have many other needs to meet—needs for houses, for sites for industry, for road improvements and so on. All these and other needs have to be met and reconciled. This cannot be done all at once, nor can it be done by way of legislation on one particular subject. We have, however, in the Town and Country Planning Acts, and in the development plans which planning authorities throughout Scotland are under obligation to prepare, a means of securing that allotment schemes are given an assured place in the lay-out of our towns and country-side. Meantime, the Government have felt that it is desirable and possible to make one or two amendments in the existing law which are related to this question of security of tenure among other matters.

I will now give the House a brief description of the various clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 extends from six months to twelve months the notice to remove to be given by a lessor in respect of land let for use by the tenant as an allotment garden. The present law provides for six months' or longer notice in writing to remove, expiring on or before the first day of May or on or after the first day of 'November in any year. In view, however, of the present-day policy of encouraging the growing of winter crops on allotments, it is, I think, desirable that allotment holders should be put in a position to plan their cropping a year ahead and so secure maximum production from their plots in the way of both summer and winter crops. The extension of the period of notice to remove should help towards this end.

Clause 2 gives the tenant of an allotment garden whose tenancy is terminated by notice to remove the right to compensation for crops and unexhausted manures, at whatever season the notice expires. Under the present law, where the tenancy is terminated between the first day of November and the first day of May no such compensation is recoverable. This restriction is, I think, not only somewhat harsh but also detrimental to the production of winter crops.

Clause 3 is intended to provide for the payment of one year's rent as compensation for disturbance to the tenant of an allotment garden whose tenancy is terminated at short notice. The termination may be consequential on a power of reentry for any of the purposes specified in paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (1) of Section 1 of the Allotments (Scotland) Act, 1922—for example, housing. Or it may arise where the landlord is a local authority who has entered on land under Section 10 of the '1922 Act, because it was unoccupied, and the authority's right of occupation may now have been terminated. In these cases where less than twelve months' notice to remove is given, it is I think reasonable that the tenants should receive consideration in respect of disturbance.

Clause 4 gives the lessor the right to recover compensation from the tenant of an allotment garden, at the time he quits, for any deterioration of the land caused by the tenant's failure to maintain it clean and in a good state of cultivation and fertility. This is a corollary to the compensation payable to the tenant on the termination of the tenancy of his allotment garden. Badly attended allotments are not in the interests of the allotments movement, and it is not unreasonable that a holder who allows his plot to deteriorate should be liable to some penalty.

Clause 5 entitles a lessor to deduct from any sum payable to the tenant by way of compensation on his quitting any sum payable to the lessor by the tenant in respect of the tenancy. It also entitles a tenant to make corresponding deductions from any money due to the lessor in respect of the tenancy.

Clause 6 provides that the earlier clauses of the Bill will not apply to any land occupied by a local authority which they have let as allotments under emergency powers. Such land will continue to be dealt with under existing legislation.

Clause 7 applies certain general provisions of the Allotments (Scotland) Act, 1922, to the earlier clauses, for example, as regards assessment and recovery of compensation.

Clause 8 restricts the allotment authorities' obligation to provide allotments to the provisions of allotment gardens—that is, allotments not exceeding 40 poles in area—except in the case of a burgh having a population or 10,000 or upwards, in which case the obligation is restricted as at present to allotment gardens not exceeding 20 poles. This provision does not prevent allotment authorities from exercising their existing powers to provide larger allotments if they so desire. In practice, Scottish local authorities do provide only allotment gardens, which comprise as large an area as a tenant can normally manage in his spare time. In these circumstances, it is felt that the obligation of local authorities should be limited to the provision of allotment gardens.

Clause 9 provides that local authorities shall, as under existing legislation, let their allotments at a fair rent for such use, but a proviso enables a less rent to be charged to a person if the local authority are satisfied that special circumstances exist affecting that person. Local authorities have at present no authority to charge less than a fair rent in any circumstances. This provision will enable a less rent to be charged to such persons as old and infirm persons if the local authority see fit to do so.

Clause 10 is intended to provide, when Defence Regulation 62B comes to an end, permanent protection for domestic keepers of hens and rabbits against restrictive conditions in feu charters, leases, contracts and the like affecting land or relating to its use. The clause does not go as far as the Defence Regulation, since it is confined to the protection of domestic hen and rabbit keepers only, and does not cover pig keeping, or the keeping of hens and rabbits on a commercial scale. Also, it does not override the operation of any enactment or requirement of a Dean of Guild Court as did the Defence Regulation. Nothing would, of course, be permitted that would be prejudicial to health or would constitute a nuisance. While domestic poultry and rabbit keeping is not carried out on a large scale in Scotland, it is nevertheless felt that, as a substantial proportion of the food consumed is provided from kitchen waste and without any substantial call on other feeding stuffs, this method of contributing to our food supplies should he encouraged and at least be given protection against restrictive provisions of tenancy agreements and the like. Clauses 11 to 14 are formal and do not call for any comment.

I trust that this brief explanation I have given will commend the measure to the House. I am satisfied that it will be of advantage to allotment holders and will help to encourage a movement which I am sure we are all anxious to see firmly established, both from the point of view of the fresh food that it produces and from the point of view of the healthy recreation and pleasure it provides for its many enthusiasts. Equally, I am satisfied that, in view of the need for maximum home food production, it is desirable to afford to domestic keepers of hens and rabbits the protection which the Bill provides.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, at the outset I should like to thank the noble Lord for the manner in which he has introduced the Bill to the House. He has done so in simple language, which makes it so much easier to understand. I am attracted to this Bill for two reasons. First of all, unlike the last Bill we were discussing, this is a Scottish Bill, which makes it easier to handle; and secondly, I am grateful to the draftsman for carefully explaining in brackets the meaning of references to other Acts of Parliament. That has been a great help and I only wish it could be adopted as a universal Practice in all Acts of Parliament. His Majesty's Government have taken a curious course with this Bill. They had two Allotment Bills on their hands: one they have put in at one end of the Parliamentary machine, and the other at the other end. The English Bill will be coming before another place in about a week's time, and it is up to us to see if we cannot produce a better Bill than they.

This Bill deals with allotment gardens, which I am informed are normally not more than forty poles or one-quarter of an acre. I do not think there is anybody who would not do what he could to help the allotment movement, and I am sure there are few noble Lords who have not done a great deal to help provide healthful recreation and also value in the way of food. I am disappointed that the movement is not stronger. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, for the figures he gave, but, frankly, they are rather disappointing. If I may put it in a slightly different way, to-day there are 44,000 allotment holders, and there are about 50,000 agricultural holdings. It may be that some of them overlap—I do not know. Supposing there were 50,000 people who had gardens round their houses, that would mean that one in eight only of the families in Scotland had direct access to the ground, or that something like 80 per cent. of the whole population have no direct access to the ground. If my calculations are correct—and I think they are—that is a deplorable situation. I should like to ask whether this Bill will alter that position vitally. With great respect, I do not think it will. I am afraid that it does not really take us much further forward than we are at present. I can mention various things which might have been dealt with. For instance, there are anomalies in regard to rating—sometimes allotments are, and sometimes they are not, rated. In many respects the position of trespass on allotments is uncertain. I feel that more might be done by education, guidance and possibly research in allotment schemes, if we regard them as sufficiently important. Finally, what is most important is that they must he made attractive.

May I now turn to the Bill for a moment? I have nothing to add to what the noble Lord said about the period of notice and about compensation. However, I am not quite clear about Clause 6, and why allotments which started under Defence Regulation 62A should be treated entirely differently from others. There may be seine reason for that, but it is not clear to me. When I come to Clause 10, I find a curious situation, and I am not clear what His Majesty's Government are trying to do. Clause 10 says that, no matter what provisions, contract or undertaking a man may have entered into, if he is occupying the land he may keep chickens and rabbits, always provided that there is no enactment to the contrary. As I understand the definition of an allotment garden from a previous enactment, it is an area net exceeding forty poles which is wholly or mainly cultivated by the occupier for the production of vegetable crops… It therefore appears to me that, while the first nine clauses of the Bill deal with allotment gardens, Clause 10 deals with everything but an allotment garden. That is my reading of the situation as it stands at present, and I do not know what the intention of the Government is. In any case, I am not enamoured of an absolute statutory right to keep chickens and rabbits in every conceivable instance in which land is occupied. I am all for the allotment movement, but is not the noble Lord going a little far in putting forward that absolutely general proposition?

Apart from allotment gardens, there are various things for which land might be let. For instance, it might be let for use as a cricket pitch. Could the cricket team keep chickens and rabbits on the cricket pitch? Similar observations might apply to a bowling green. If you rent a shed or garage, are you thereby entitled by Statute to keep rabbits? I can carry the point even further. If you take a house for a fortnight or a month in the summer, are you entitled, as a statutory right, to keep chickens and rabbits in the garden? It may be going a little too far to ask whether, if you purchase a lair in a cemetery, you are entitled to keep chickens or rabbits there. Maybe you would be past keeping chickens and rabbits when you arrived there. To strike a more serious tone, supposing a smallholding were let in a plantation, is the proprietor not allowed to insist on the rabbits being kept down at all cost? Or has the man the statutory right to keep rabbits even in the middle of a plantation? I suggest that he should not keep rabbits. Even tame rabbits might escape and create a colony, to the great detriment of the plantation.

I mention these points because I think this provision goes a little too far. I can quite understand that the people who have taken advantage of Defence Regulation 62B should be permitted to continue, and I am happy to help in any way in that respect, but I should like the Government to think a little about the wide terms in which the clause is at present couched. There is another question. How does the man keep chickens? To obtain food for chickens you have to have twenty-five of them, and you have to sell the eggs to the public. That is precisely what an allotment gardener cannot do. I ask that question because I feel it is important. If it is desired to maintain people who have in fact taken advantage of this Order, then I am sure we can find a way round. However, I suggest that the broad manner in which the clause is couched at present will perhaps defeat the object. If the allotment movement is to be successful, it must be attractive. We must not make people annoyed by giving excessive statutory rights which will merely serve to alienate other people. We want the co-operation of everyone in moving forward with the allotment movement. There are nearly 50 per cent. fewer since the end of the war. That is not at all satisfactory, and I do not think it is due to the lack of power which Clause 10 is intended to remedy—there are other causes. I shall be glad to assist in any way I can to see if we can amend this clause. Meantime I suggest that those who have the allotment movement at heart should be careful that it is not made unattractive to other people who are concerned.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I can explain one point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Selkirk regarding the distribution of allotments in Scotland. In my experience, allotments in Scotland are almost invariably the concomitant of what we call a borough town. It is not the great cities in Scotland that have allotments. The reason is that the allotments have to be on the outskirts of those cities, and the climate of our country does not permit people, as they do on the continent, frequently to go and spend a long evening on the allotment. That is a difficulty which might be overcome, but it is one of the reasons for the partial distribution of allotments in Scotland.

There are two points I should like to mention on the Bill. I have studied the compensation provisions very carefully and I am favourably disposed to them, but I think some consideration ought to be given to the position of boroughs who let land for allotments and who have housing schemes coming on. I know the practice is that one generally tells the allotment holders two or three years beforehand that the scheme will be coming on, and then they take steps to diminish their loss. I do not want anything to occur which will allow people to exaggerate their loss or to be careless about minimising their loss.

The only serious point I have to speak upon to-night is with regard to Clause 10, to which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, devoted so much attention. I am speaking for the County Councils Association of Scotland in this matter, and I think that the considerations they urge are well worth the attention of His Majesty's Government. They object to Clause 10 as it stands, mainly for three reasons—and they are very good reasons. The first is that the arrangements for keeping rabbits and fowls are nearly always unsightly. That is the least of their objections. The second objection is that they invariably bring a lot of vermin, and whatever the profit to the allotment holder from the chickens and rabbits he is allowed to keep, the damage to his neighbours from the rats which invariably come offsets that, and it does become a nuisance. The third objection is that where there is a provision to enable people to keep rabbits and fowls, it has been found to promote a great deal of bad blood between neighbours.

The situation is really rather worse. When we are talking about allotments we think about allotments on the outskirts of towns, all lying together. But, so far as I understand the Bill, the term "allotment" also covers the gardens of housing schemes. Very often, the local authority have tried to do away with fencing, and the provisions of Clause 10 will seriously interfere with the sightliness and comfort of these housing schemes. So I think it must be modified in that respect. The County Councils Association have authorised me to make the following suggestion to His Majesty's Government, which I hope my noble friend will take into consideration. It is that the permission to keep rabbits and chickens should be dealt with by regulation, and that the local authorities should have the discretion as to whether or not they allow this. As the local authority have most to gain and most to suffer from good or bad relations between neighbours, I humbly submit to His Majesty's Government that this is a very reasonable request and should receive the fullest consideration.


My Lords, in view of the fact that we have other Business to transact to-night, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to look into the suggestion which he has just made, and permit me to communicate with him in due course. The same applies to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. With regard to his last point, I can answer him offhand from my own experience. The noble Earl asked: How does one keep chickens without keeping twenty-five of them?


Black market!


I have kept chickens for a very long time, and for the last two or three years they have never exceeded six in number. They are fed from the scraps which come from the kitchen waste. I think that is the ordinary method by which the chickens on allotments would be fed—not by purchasing food, hut by the allotment holder taking his own and his neighbour's scraps of potato peelings, boiling them up and taking them down to the chickens. With regard to any other points raised, if they are considered of sufficient importance, perhaps we may have consultations before the Committee stage arid put down Amendments. In the meantime, may I thank your Lordships for the reception you have given this Bill?

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