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Allotments Bill Lords

Volume 155: debated on Monday 12 June 1922

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Order for Second Reading read.

:I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a, Second time."

This Bill has already passed through its various stages in another place, where it has been altered to some extent. It may be necessary for us to put back some of the Clauses and provisions that were originally in the Bill, although the alterations made in another place are not of a very grave character and do not seriously affect the objects of the Bill. I propose to reserve what I have to say upon that matter until we get into Committee. This Bill is based on the unanimous Report of a. Departmental Committee, which was appointed by the Secretary for Scotland and myself, about a year ago, to inquire into the whole question of allotments, with a view to seeing if there are any alterations of the law or procedure which would make it easier to obtain allotments in the future. The main recommendations of this Committee are contained in the present Bill. Before describing them, it may be a matter of some interest if I say a few words about the history of this most important allotment movement.

The allotment movement, the provision of small patches of ground for cultivation by householders, not immediately adjoining their houses, began in the latter part of the 19th century, through a desire on the part of many occupiers of houses, both in town and country, who had not an opportunity of cultivating a cottage garden of their own, to do something in the way of food production and land cultivation. By degrees the allotments grew up, originally by private arrangements with landowners. It was felt in this House and elsewhere that this was a movement to be encouraged, and certain persons took up the matter very warmly. There is one name which will always be associated with the allotment movement, that of the late Mr. Jesse Collings, who perhaps did more than anyone else to bring the matter forward at a time when its importance was imperfectly realised. It was largely through his influence that the first Allotments Act was passed by Parliament in 1887. Then, for the first time, public authorities were given powers to provide allotments in plaices where allotments could not otherwise be obtained. After that, various minor Measures were passed, but no great progress was made till the year 1907, when the well-known Agricultural Holdings Act was passed, which gave much greater and wider powers to local authorities to provide allotments than existed before. It is worthy of notice, as showing how all parties in the State did what they could to promote the allotment movement, that the original Act of 1887 was passed by a Conservative Government, and the later and much bigger Act of 1907 was passed by a Liberal Government. That Act became effective about the year 1909, and its effect was very manifest.

Between 1909 and 1914 the number of allotments provided by local authorities increased from 58,000 to 130,000, and at the outbreak of war in 1914 we had, so far as we were able to ascertain, exact statistics being impossible, 580,000 allotments in England and Wales, of which 130,000 were provided by local authorities, 41,000 by railway companies, who have always shown themselves to be very much alive to the necessity of providing allotments, and have made very liberal provision on their vacant land, and the remainder, the greatest number, by private individuals. During the War there was a tremendous increase. The Government appealed to the population generally where they could to take a bit of land and to cultivate it in the way of market gardens for the purpose of food production. Very wide powers were conferred upon the Board of Agriculture by Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act, enabling them to take land which was not being immediately used for any other purposes, and to enter upon it and convert it for use as allotments, and this power was extensively used. There was an enormous increase in the number of allotments during the War. In 1914 we had 580,000, and in 1920 we had 1,330,000. That is an increase, roughly, of 750,000. They sprang up all over the country. I am speaking entirely of England and Wales. In the case of Scotland a similar process took place. There was a great extension of the allotments movement there too, but the Scottish case will be presented separately by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, who is bringing forward a separate Bill dealing with Scotland, where the present state of the law and the conditions are somewhat different. In the case of England and Wales there was this great increase of 750,000 allotments between 1914 and 1920.

Food production was taken up with great enthusiasm, and a really large contribution to the amount of food produced in this country was made by plot holders in this country. Not only that, but a great keenness developed on the part of our town populations to engage in the cultivation of allotments, and it is a very fine movement. It went a long way to break down the barriers which, you sometimes hear, exist between the interests of the urban and those of the rural populations. The people dwelling in the town took for the first time an interest in the cultivation of the land and in the close study of nature. There was emulation between one allotment association and another, and between one allotment holder and another, and, apart altogether from the value of the food produced, the social value of the allotment was very great owing to the healthy recreation in the open air, the incentive to work, and the interest in natural pursuits which it engendered, and which have been a very valuable thing for the country.

9.0 P.M.

This keenness went right through our town population. It has been said that a new disease, called allotmentitis, seized the people. I do not call it a disease. I call it a new and healthy cult, because I wish to see this great forward movement continue. I do not wish to see any setback. For that reason we are bringing in this Bill at the present time, because it will be realised that, owing to what took place during the War, the allotment question became much more of a town question than it was a country question. In the country districts there is not as a rule very great difficulty in acquring suitable land. In many cases there are already gardens attached to cottages. I would like to see cottages never built without gardens. As regards the towns, in many eases the land that was taken during the War for allotments was land that was ripe for building, and which would have been built upon if War conditions had not prevailed. Land which otherwise would have been applied to other and important industrial purposes had been taken, or land which might now be required for rounding off roads, and so on.

We were, therefore, face to face with this position after the War, that this keen desire for allotments must be met. More allotments were required, and at the same time, having taken the land temporarily as an emergency, it was necessary that we should, by degrees, restore as much of the land as possible to the original holders for the purposes for which they required it. Of the new allotments formed during the War, 200,000 were in respect of land acquired and entered upon under the D.O.R.A. Regulations. Some 56,000 other allotments were in respect of land already the property of local authorities, but for the time being diverted from their proper use to the purposes of allotments. For example, parks and recreation grounds and other open spaces of that sort which, during the War, it was right, owing to the necessity for food. production, to use as allotments, could not justly be continued to be used for that purpose, thereby depriving the general public of their open spaces and recreation grounds.

Therefore, it became obvious that grave difficulty would arise soon after the War with regard both to the extension of allotments and maintaining the allotments which we already possessed. We had, therefore, to deal with the situation in the best way we could by the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act; we have taken powers to retain D.O.R.A. allotments for two years after the War, except where land was originally required for building purposes, or where the compensation involved would be altogether too large having regard to the value of the food produced on the allotments. Two years after the War means two years from the formal cessation, that is down to September, 1923. But the formal conclusion of the War was put off so long after the Armistice that it was necessary for us to fix a date at which we should allow this land to go back, and we fixed 25th March next year as the date on which this land, taken during an emergency period, should revert to its proper owner.

There were three reasons for this. We felt, in the first place, that to rely on war emergency measures five years after the Armistice was not right. Then we realised that as long as we retained D.O.R.A. land its possession was but of a temporary character, and we wished, therefore, to take steps to acquire land in a more permanent way. Thirdly, we felt that we could not justify the great expense entailed in retaining the land so long. We endeavoured, however, to meet the situation by certain Clauses in the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act of 1919. That. gave to local authorities greater powers for the acquisition of land for allotments. These efforts have been to some extent successful. We have lost in the last two years 21,000 allotments, in the case of D.O.R.A. land, but local authorities have acquired 81,000 additional allotments under the powers they possess. That shows, at all events, that what we did in 1919 has borne fruit. But the fact that 180,000 of the D.O.R.. A. allotments will have to disappear next March, the fact that some local authorities were not as active as others, and that it was felt that the powers, even after 1919, were not sufficient, caused a great deal of anxiety among allotment holders. It was in order that we might ascertain whether any further powers should be granted by Parliament that there was appointed the Committee on whose unanimous Report we are proposing this legislation to-night.

The provisions of the Bill look rather complicated at first sight, but are fairly simple. They follow the main lines of the Committee's Report. Clauses of great importance are 1, 2, and 9. The Bill deals with a matter to which allotment holders attach great importance, namely, security of tenure. Above all things, the allotment holder wants to feel some kind of security. You cannot expect him to go to a lot of trouble in preparing and manuring his land and putting in seeds, if during the cropping season he may be deprived of the allotment. Although by the Agriculture Act we gave him compensation for disturbance, the allotment holder says quite rightly, "I do not so much want compensation for disturbance. I want to be able to gather in my crops. I want, if possible, to have longer and greater security." We felt, therefore, that we must deal with security of tenure. We could get. absolute security where a borough, council or urban, council acquired the land. If the land were acquired out-and-out, there would be absolute security; if it were hired for a long period the holder would be practically right. If, as was the case in my own constituency, a borough is fortunate enough to have land presented by a generous donor for allotments, it is secure, too. But the acquiring of land in the neighbourhood of a town is a very expensive process, and in most cases it is impossible on any economic basis. Therefore we are doing, and have done all we can to enable local authorities to hire land compulsorily and to be charged only an agricultural rent for it.

We have tried to deal with another point of security of tenure which will give some satisfaction to the allotment holder. In most cases, in ordinary cases, in cases where land is not required for building, mining or industrial purposes, there must be in future six months' notice before the tenancy of an allotment can be ended, and that notice will be null and void if it expires between Lady Day and Michaelmas; in other words, it must not expire during what might be called the summer cropping season. That will be a very great advantage to the allotment holder. As a sort of set-off against that, the allotment holders have agreed to give up compensation. If the notice can expire only in the non-cropping season there is no question of the compensation for crops to be paid. Then the allotment holders are willing to give up the compensation for disturbances granted to them by the Agriculture Act. That is a compromise made on the Committee between the representatives of what you may call the owners and the representatives of the allotment associations. The compromise has been embodied in the Bill. It has been amended in another place, but I hope we shall maintain the provision in this House.

We had to deal with the further cases where the land is required for building, mining or other industrial purposes. I yield to no man in my desire to forward the allotment movement; but you cannot allow allotments to stand in the way of such things as housing or industrial development. Therefore, there must be an easier form of resumption in cases of that sort. In such cases the notice may he three months instead of six months, and it may terminate at any time, even in the cropping season. In that case, however, there will be full compensation payable for crops and unexhausted manure. There is another exception which did not exist as the Bill was originally introduced, but was inserted in another place. That is in the case of a railway, dock. canal or other statutory company which has acquired land for its own purposes and has temporarily allowed it to be used for allotments. In such cases there will be practically no notice, except such as is contained in their agreements, but there again there will be compensation. A difficult question arises as to whether a notice claiming that an individual wants his land for industrial purposes or housing is bonâ fide, or where, as is often alleged, land is nominally resumed for this purpose and then nothing takes place. It has been felt that there should be some kind of appeal on the question of the bonâ fides of the claim for resumption of that kind. As the Bill was originally introduced, the decision as to the bonâ fides of the man giving the notice was to be referred to the Minister of Agriculture as the arbitrator. I am not sorry to say that in another place they knocked out the Minister of Agriculture and put in an arbitrator. It would be an exceedingly difficult thing for any Minister of any Government Department to undertake work of this sort, which is far better done by an ordinary arbitrator.

There was the word "reasonably" in the original Bill. Where does the arbitrator come in?

They have left out "reasonably" in Clause 1 (b). I do not pledge myself to every word of the Bill as it comes from another place. If my right hon. Friend will look at Clause 10 he will see that the question is there raised whether the notice has been given for the purpose for which it is claimed, and that within ten days of notice being served a demand may be put in against this claim and the matter shall be referred to arbitration.

That refers only to where land is being resumed from local authorities or associations. It refers only to cases where

"land has been let to a local authority or to an association."
There is no power of arbitration conferred in respect of the private person from whom land is being resumed by a public company or for building or anything of that kind. The Bill as originally drafted allowed an appeal because it contained the word "reasonably." Now the word "reasonably" has disappeared.

That and a great many other points can be dealt with upstairs. In Clauses 1 and 2 we have endeavoured to deal with the question of security of tenure, and now I come to Clause 9, which is a very important one. It. gives to every local authority with over 10,000 inhabitants what I may describe as the D.O.R.A. powers enjoyed by the Board of Agriculture during the War. That is to say, they can enter upon land which is not now subject to any rateable occupation—any land, in fact, of which use is not being made for the time being. They can split that land up, convert it and use it for allotments for the time being. That, I think, will be a very valuable power. There is always in towns a good deal of land of that description—land which may be used a few years hence, but to which no particular value attaches at the moment. Not only in towns, but in large colliery and industrial districts like the Black Country there is a good deal of land which is not being beneficially used at the present time, but which could be most suitably used for allotments. Therefore, these very extensive powers are being conferred on authorities—borough or urban or county councils with over 10,000 inhabitants—to enter upon that land, use it and let it as allotments for the time being. It follows—and this matter has been argued before now in the House—that if such wide powers of entering upon land are granted there must be an easy method of resumption. The land might become. suddenly ripe for building or some other use for it might be found, and if we enable people to take land in this very drastic manner, the least we can do is to provide an easy method of resumption. It is proposed, therefore, that in the case of these emergency or temporary allotments there shall be power of resuming on one month's notice.

There is another Clause to which I would direct the attention of the House. Although most local authorities have shown great keenness in carrying out their duties in connection with allotments, there are always laggards and sluggards even among local authorities, and some have not been very active. That may be due to the fact that they have not got any members on their councils who are really keen on allotments, though there may be a big demand for allotments outside. It is, therefore, laid down by Clause 13 that it shall be the duty of every urban district council or borough council with a population of 10,000 or upwards to have an allotment committee, and that there shall be co-opted on that committee a substantial number of persons who are actually allotment holders themselves. I think that will have the effect of gingering up such authorities as have not been active in the past, and will have a very good influence in pushing forward the. allotments movement. It is quite true that there is under the Clause a power of exempting from its provisions such authorities as the Minister of Health may think desirable. There are some authorities for whom an allotments committee would be useless. There are certain metropolitan boroughs where probably the authorities could not find any allotments if they tried. Therefore, it is just as well to have this power of exemption, but, generally speaking, the rule will be that there must be an allotment committee in the case of every urban district council and town council with the population mentioned, and there must be a substantial proportion of allotment holders co-opted on that committee.

Clauses 3, 4 and 6 are new Clauses inserted in another place and they are really for consolidation purposes. We found when we came to deal with the question that the law was very involved and difficult to understand largely due to the fact that in previous Acts of Parliament, allotments had been defined in very varying terms. For example, by the Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation for Crops Act, 1887, an allotment might be anything up to two acres. By the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, an allotment might be anything up to five acres. In our judgment an allotment, in the sense of the ordinary use of the word, is something much smaller than live acres or two acres, and we have all through the Bill used the expression "allotment gardens" and by an allotment garden we mean a parcel of land of not more than forty poles cultivated for the production of vegetables. That is really what the general public means by allotments, and if you go up to two acres or five acres you are dealing with what would commonly be called small holdings. Therefore the principal proposals of the Bill, namely security of tenure, provision as to notice, compensation for disturbance and power to enter upon land, apply exclusively to allotment gardens of forty poles or under.

We were met with the fact that there were certain provisions applying to bigger allotments in previous Acts. We have therefore repealed the Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation for Crops Act in respect of allotments between 40 poles and two acres, and have re-enacted its provisions substantially in Clauses 3 and 4. As regards the even larger so-called allotments, many up to five acres, they will be treated as small holdings, and dealt with by the Small Holdings Act. No good is done by trying to glorify allotments into small holdings, and it is much better to draw a sharp line between the two. These are the principal provisions of the Bill, but I will just mention one or two other Clauses in passing. By Clause 8 we give to local authorities the power to purchase land, not for cash but for perpetual annuities.

Were Clauses 3 and 4 part of the original Bill, or were they put in during the progress of the Measure in another place?

They were put in at the instance of the Government, because complaints were made that the Bill was entirely a matter of legislation by reference. Therefore, what we did was to repeal the Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation for Crops Act and another Act, and to re-enact them substantially in Clauses 3 and 4. That is done really for convenience. By Clause 8 we give power to local authorities to buy land for perpetual annuities, and that power is extended from small holdings to allotments. Clause 10 is the arbitration Clause, to which I have already alluded. Clause 15 enables local authorities, where they are the owners of tramways or other means of conveyance, to give special travelling facilities to allotment holders. This is a valuable Clause, in the sense that it is a very good thing to encourage allotments at some distance from the centre of a town. You may get land cheaper, and there is no reason whatever why those interested in allotments should not travel to their allotments some way off. If it is possible to give them cheap travelling facilities, I think it will be an advantage.

Clause 16 to some extent readjusts the financial provision of allotments. It lays down distinctly that allotments must be self-supporting. There has been a good deal of demand for Government assistance to allotments in the shape of subsidies from the Treasury or from the local rates. We do not think that anything of that kind is either possible or desirable, especially at the present moment. Therefore we lay it down that these allotments must be self-supporting. But we make just this amount of exception, that we provide relief in respect of expenses incidental to the acquisition of the land, which may be paid out of the rates. There is a precedent in the case of land acquired for small holdings under the Small Holdings Act, 1908. Secondly, the cost of public roads can be paid for out of the rates, and, thirdly, the sinking fund charges for the repayment of the loan should be paid for out of the rates and should not fall on the allotment holder. If they fall on the allotment holder a position of injustice arises because, at the end of the term of the years of repayment, if the land belongs to the local authorities exclusively and at the same Lime the sinking fund charges have been paid by the allotment holders. In Clause 17 we deal with the rates. That is not a very big point. At the present moment the individual allotment holder is rated. We propose in future that the authority which takes the land and sublets it to an individual plot holder, whether that authority be a local authority or an association, shall be rated.

Clause 19 is a special Clause dealing with particular conditions in the New Forest. There are other Clauses dealing with matters of minor importance but all of them, I think, are based upon recommendations of the Committee to which I have already referred. I will not weary the House by going into further details, but I will say this, that though I know that the Bill does not, satisfy everybody, no Bill that I ever heard of did, and though it does not go so far as some of the keenest advocates of allotments might have gone, I think it is a very considerable step in the right direction. Not only is it based upon this unanimous report, but it has the approval of allotment societies all through the country. Only a few weeks ago I had the privilege of addressing a very big meeting in London, where I believe allotment associations of the whole kingdom were represented. I outlined all the general heads of the Bill, and I was able to ascertain that as a rule it was approved.

You can hardly say that, because it was before the Bill was introduced at all, and my speech therefore was of rather a vague character. Seriously, I do not think the alterations are a very important matter and the main principles and provisions of the Bill as introduced are retained, though, as I have already said, I am not prepared to say now that I accept all the Amendments made there. Some of them we shall have to alter. I should like to reserve those detailed points for Committee. I do claim, however, that the Bill goes a very considerable way in the direction of giving greater security of tenure and making it more easy to acquire land for a local authority. We had this great movement which went on right through the War. During the War, it produced most valuable results, and most valuable social effects which were of the very best character. I think this movement has come to stay, and I should be very sorry to see it checked. Unless, however, we give greater facilities than obtain to-day, there may be a set back which will be a very disastrous matter. Therefore, I hope the House will give the Bill a. Second Reading and will allow us to send it to a Committee upstairs where its proposals will be considered.

I am not sure whether it will be for the convenience of the House that we should be informed before we get much further if the Government anticipate getting the Second Reading of the Bill to-night.

Of course, that is a matter for the House. We should very much like to get the Second Reading to-night, because the sooner we can get it up to the Committee the better.

I quite recognise that that is all that I can ask the right hon. Gentleman to say at the present stage. I am not going to weary the House by following him in the part of his speech in which he described, in a way with which we all agree, the very great importance of the allotment movement in this country, the great amount of good it did during the War, and the wonderful way in which the keenness of all allotment holders, especially in the urban centres, which was manifested during the War, still survives. The allotment habit has become almost as much a definite habit as that of taking the baby out in the perambulator on a Sunday afternoon. In fact, sometimes, I am not at all sure they do not leave the baby at home and go to the allotment instead. I cannot have worked as Chairman of the allotment side of the Agricultural Organisation Society for several hours a week for many years without being very greatly impressed by the very great good which the allotment movement does in this country. I think it a most wonderful safety valve for big towns that the populations should be well provided with allotments, and it does an enormous amount of good, particularly in times of lock-outs, strikes, and other industrial disputes, that the men should have their allotments to go to. They can do a great deal more good killing slugs on their allotments than abusing Members of the Government round street corners, which they are otherwise rather inclined to do.

My right hon. Friend has treated some parts of the Bill as rather thin ice, and has skated over them rather rapidly, and before we conclude the Second Reading stage I think it is right that the House should know rather more fully about some matters which arise in the history of this question than they may know at the present time. The Bill, as my right hon. Friend said, takes its rise from a demand which is mainly urban—an urban demand to get extra and improved powers of obtaining land, largely to replace the land which was taken by the Ministry under the Defence of the Realm Act. The beginning of the allotment movement was, as he, I think, also explained to us, rural, and the great stimulus to the urban side of it came, as he said, in the War, and he has done, I think, as well as any Minister could be expected to do in having retained the Defence of the Realm Act land as long as he has done. It is only reasonable that those special powers should come to an end some time, and although we and the people interested in allotment holders did our best to urge on him, in season and out of season altogether, the extension of the period during which land should be kept under the Defence of the Realm Act Regulations, yet. I am bound to say I think he is right in bringing that period to an end, as he does, on 25th March next year. But, of course, allotment holders, and, to some extent, local authorities, on whom they are represented, have been very anxious that extra powers should be given by legislation, so that the land which otherwise they will lose when the Defence of the Realm Act Regulations are finally abandoned shall be retained to them, and as one of those who was present when the original deputation waited on him which proposed that this Committee should be set up, I know, what he will agree with, that it was largely that fear about what might happen to the Defence of the Realm Act land which prompted the setting up of the Committee on whose Report the Government is now acting.

The Committee made a unanimous Report, and that Report has gone through one or two stages before reaching the form which it now presents to us in this Bill. It was a unanimous Report, as my right hon. Friend has said, and it is worth remembering that the Committee contained not only representatives of the allotment holders and societies interested in allotment holders, but also representatives of the local authorities. In fact, I think there were on it, not unreasonably, perhaps, more representatives of the local authorities than persons particularly interested in allotment holdings; nevertheless it was a unanimous Report Therefore presumably it represented what might have been regarded as a fairly balanced compromise between the views of the allotment holders and those of the local authorities. At any rate, there was ample room on the Committee for the expression of the local authorities' views, and they were expressed. The Report having been presented, it went through one stage. It was first to some extent whittled down by Ministers and by the Government, perfectly legitimately, of course, before its recommendations were embodied in a Bill. In the financial state of the country it was almost inevitable that the recommendations of that Committee which in any way touched on increase of public expenditure should be abandoned, for the present, at any rate—I hope not permanently—but one finds in that connection that it was recommended that financial assistance under certain circumstances should be given to local authorities to acquire land for allotment purposes and, of course, that is not reproduced in the Bill. No such financial assistance is proposed to be given, but there are certain things which were recommended in the Report which we do not find in the Bill.

First of all, it was suggested, I think, surely very reasonably, that permanent provision should be made, that allotments should be planned for, on a permanent basis, in all schemes under the Housing and Town Planning Act. That may be impossible to introduce in a Bill of this kind, or it may have been dropped for some other reason.

At any rate, before we have done we shall, I hope, get an assurance from the Government that when a suitable opportunity does occur the Housing and Town Planning Act may be so amended as to make permanent provision for allotments, because, as the allotment holders well say, nothing but permanence gives them real security—nothing but real ownership by an authority, or by a society, or by themselves of their plots will give them real security; and you ought, instead of pushing the allotment holders always further out into the country districts, to make quite as definite provision for allotment areas as you do for parks and open spaces, recreation grounds, and things of that kind. Then, of course, the question of codification was proposed to be dealt with in the codifying Bill with regard to agricultural holdings, and has been altered—I am not sure without one or two little differences having inadvertently crept in—by the present proposal, which, as my right hon. Friend said, was introduced at the instance of the Government on the Report stage in another place, to make this a codifying Bill and to bring all the provisions in regard to allotments together here. Then there was the recommendation in regard to a National Advisory Committee on Allotments. That would not, I think, be a matter for Statute. I do not want a statutory Committee set up again, like the Agriculture Committee, but still one would like, before we finish with this matter, to know whether my right hon. Friend does intend to set up any Committee to advise him on allotment questions. I think there is a great deal to be said for that course.

Then there was a recommendation that there should be some encouragement to local authorities to let land to co-operative associations, which is a very important matter. I do not go into the question as to whether those associations should be under the National Union of Allotment Holders, or the society which I happen to be connected with, the Agricultural Organisation Society, but undoubtedly, if allotment land be taken up and looked after by associations, it can be used very much more to the general advantage than if the land has to be let in individual plots to individual allotment holders. The associations can lay down proper rules much more easily than local authorities can with regard to the avoidance of nuisances, with regard to not allowing sub-letting, and various things that make all the difference on the question as to whether the allotment holder and his land is really popular, or whether it is not really altogether satisfactorily conducted. On the question of rating, the Committee recommended, in Section 59 of their Report, that the rating of allotments should always be at the agricultural value. That is not referred to in the Bill, and before the end some of us will want to know the reason why that appears to have been left out.

The only other point I wish to make is the recommendation of the Report, in Clauses 67 and 68, that powers should be given to the Minister of Agriculture to act in default of the greater local authorities, as he is empowered to act in default of some of the minor local authorities. I do not think local authorities very often err, but I am not wholly convinced that the liability to err is altogether confined to the smaller authorities, and if it be reasonable to give the Minister power to review the actions of some of the minor authorities, I am not sure that that power of review, and of action on default, ought not to apply also to Metropolitan boroughs, and to urban and town councils, and to county boroughs as well as to boroughs. At present the Minister can act in default of a borough, but not of a county borough, and I do not see why that should be so. Those things, and others that I might have mentioned, rather whittled clown the powers which were hoped for by this composite Committee, on which a great many local authorities and allotment holders were represented. I have suggested that we must not grumble, in difficult financial times like the present, so far as the financial terms are concerned, but I do say that if and when we can afford a little money again, no money can be better spent than in helping these allotment holders to have real security of tenure, which only comes from the actual purchase of their land, and the feeling that they have got it for ever for cultivation.

Then we come to what the Bill does really provide, or rather provided, as introduced. My right hon. Friend has covered that ground, of course, properly, and I am only going to skim over it a very little, I am bound to say, for the purpose of bringing out. what I do not think he has brought out quite completely, and that is, that to a considerable extent, in my humble opinion, the original provisions inserted in this Bill have been whittled away, or, in some cases, altogether cut out in another place before reaching us. I will just mention them in the order they are summarised in the summary of the Report. The provision with regard to special travelling facilities remains. The provision that there shall be six months' notice before a person is turned out of an allotment, except when the land is wanted for public purposes, or by a corporation, such as a railway company, and so on, remains, although the question of cutting out the word "reasonably" is a small question of some importance. Then there is the Clause for the setting up of Statutory Allotment Committees of the local authorities. Many attempts were made in another place to modify that, but I am glad to say, on the whole, that Clause has come through untouched. I think that is very important indeed. The power was given to local authorities to purchase land with annuities, instead of out and out payment, and that has come through. The original Bill provided for the extension of the period during which compulsory powers exercised by local authorities need not be confirmed by the Ministry of Agriculture. That has disappeared The Ministry, after all, drafted the Bill, and they must have known whether it would be perfectly safe or not to dispense with the sending down of inspectors in all those cases at considerable expense. I am very sorry that extra bureaucratic expense has been reintroduced, and I hope it will not stay in the Bill very long. Then there is the power of local authorities temporarily to hire land in the possession of railway companies, and so on. That has been kept to some extent, with this qualification, that the corporations, railway, canal, and water companies, and so on, were to be able to resume the land again, if it were reasonably required, and the word "reasonably" has gone. Then there has been a fairly definite modification in the Clause which gives to a local authority compulsory hiring provisions with regard to the breaking-up of grass land. It is a Committee detail, which I will not go into, but the Clause comes out a good deal weaker than it went in. I am skipping some of the less important, ones. The extension of the loan period to 80 years has survived. The Clause saying that rents are to be calculated to exclude certain items of expenditure, which had previously been habitually, or usually, charged against the allotment holder survives. I come, I think, to the most important point to which I want to draw attention in this connection, and that is, that the power of local authorities to enter unoccupied land, which was recommended by the Committee and included by the Government in the Bill as introduced, has been very considerably whittled away.

Yes, unrated land. The Bill, as introduced, gave the local authority power, at 14 days' notice, to take hold of, for temporary use as allotments, any land which was unrated, and to use it for allotments, subject to it being taken back again at short notice for the purpose for which it was originally required. That power applied to land which was the property of corporations or companies for railway, dock, canal, or similar purposes, and so keen has another place been that that power of taking this unrated land should not apply to any land in the occupation of such corporations, that in Clause 9 of the Bill they have forbidden that sort of land to be taken, not only once but twice. They have said in.Sub-section (6) of Clause 9:

"except land which has been acquired by any corporation or company"
and later in the same Sub-section they say:
"or land which has been acquired by any corporation or company."
They mean to make doubly sure of it. I think the original Clause was one which enabled such land to be taken, provided always that such corporation would take it back on really short notice if they wanted it for purposes of their own. We see, therefore, that with regard to five matters of some considerable importance, the Bill has in another place been considerably weakened—in five out of what I call the eleven leading provisions of the Bill. There will be now no appeal from the owner of the land requiring the land back again. The question whether his requirement is reasonable or not will not be able to be adjudicated upon. There will he no appeal upon the decision of a corporation to resume its own land for its own purposes. They may in some cases, I think, be tempted to resume really long before they want the land, and I think it was right in the original Bill to say that the question whether the resumption was reasonable or not might be gone into.

It is quite true that in Clause 1 the word "reasonably" is left out, but if the hon. Member will look at Clause 10, Sub-section (2), he will see that the question is raised whether the resumption of possession "is required in good faith." Those words were put in in place of the word "reasonably." Personally, I think they are stronger, because whether a thing is "reasonable" or not is very difficult to say.

That is a small and a sporting point, a narrow point, I think. The word "reasonably" is much broader. But there is a point where I interrupted my right hon. Friend, that where the person from whom the land was resumed, whether the action which was taken was reasonable—I am thinking of the Armitage case—or whether the action of the person taking back has been in "good faith" and can only be taken by the local authority or by an association. However, that is a point I am perfectly willing to leave to the Committee, but it is an important point. So I say that I do not repeat myself; I merely recall to the House the fact that in these two cases there has been considerable whittling down of the original Bill. I will shortly just run through these five matters in which I think the Bill has been worsened. Thirdly, there is the extension of the period allowed during which compulsory orders, if need be, can be referred to the Minister, and, fourthly, there are the compulsory powers of hiring, only to apply to the breaking up of grass land, if the Minister has failed to find any arable land available—the point to which I have just referred. Lastly, there is no power in the local authority to take incorporated corporation land.

Let us see, therefore, to what extent the balance of the Bill—and the Bill as originally introduced represented a balance—has been disturbed by these Amendments to which I have alluded. My right hon. Friend rightly said that in its essence the Bill, in many of its provisions, represented a compromise. He said that the allotment holders were keen about their greater power of getting hold of land, and if they could get greater power in that respect they were perfectly willing to give up some of their present powers in regard to compensation if land was taken away. They have undoubtedly found it more difficult to get the land they wanted—agricultural land in particular—because of the rather heavy compensation if the land was resumed for building purposes. That has been an advantage in the rural districts, where there is not very much desire to resume at short notice, and it is a disadvantage in urban districts. It is that disadvantage which the Bill sets out to cure. It sets out to give something better, for those concerned say that "for keeping hold of the land we will give up something with regard to compensation." If we are to judge whether the Bill is a fair quid pro quo we ought to see what sort of compensation will be provided by it, as it now is, and what sort of compensation there was to be which will now be given up. There will be, as I understand it—though the matter is not without difficulty—in Clause 1 three sorts of notice which can be given for the giving up of allotment gardens. First of all, there is the normal notice, which must be six months. Then there, is notice for public purposes—if that is provided for in the contract—which may be three months. There is notice given by a corporation or a company—also if it is provided for in the contract—which may be nothing at all. That sort of body may go in any day after the clay when they say so, and give no notice at all. They may go in with no notice, and no compensation, unless they go in between 6th April and 29th September. In all these cases, six months' notice, three months' notice for public purposes, or resumption by a public undertaking, no notice whatever and no compensation whatever is to be given under this Bill, unless the notice expires between the dates I have named.

That is not so. In the case of the six months' notice there will be no compensation; but in the other cases there will he compensation.

10.0 P.M.

I have read the Bill very, very carefully—though I shall be very glad to be corrected and to admit my error if I find that it is one—but as I read it, unless the notice expires during the summer, there will be no compensation at all. That is an advantage given in another place, and may be set off against what I have suggested as to the worsening of the Bill. But the point should still be borne in mind how very favourable the compensation was which is superseded by this new Clasue. In the Act of 1920 there was a special Clause, No. 11, which the, House will remember we sat up a great deal of one night over, during the 18 hours sitting—when we were dealing with the Amendments from another place. We have debated the whole question of compensation to be paid far disturbance of allotment garden holders, and we settled it after a very great deal of argument and compromise on a very liberal basis so far as the allotment holder was concerned. However long the period was, he got a year's notice, and a year's rent at the end of it. If the notice were less than a year we gave him a year's rent, or possibly as much as two years, with the cost of removal, which was considerable, or the vale of the year's occupation of the allotment, whichever was the greater, in addition to the value of the crop, and unexhausted manures which had given under the Act of 1887. The Agriculture Act gave these very heavy and generous compensations, of which he is now to be entirely deprived. Under no circumstances will he get that sort of compensation at all. Under the most favourable circumstances, whether the notice expires in summer or winter, all he will get is the value of the crops and the unexhaunted manures put in since the last crop, and the compensation given under Clause 11 of the Act of 1920 is entirely wiped out, because that Clause is repealed in the Schedule.

Therefore it seems to me that as the allotment holder is to be asked to give up so much in regard to compensation, that he might well ask whether now the Bill any longer represents the balanced settlement which he is willing to accept. I hope it may be found that it does, but there has not been full time for the country and those interested to understand the exact effect of the Lords Amendments. I have myself just been convicted apparently of not understanding one point, in spite of the close study I have given to it, and I should counsel my right hon. Friend, if I may humbly do so, after he has got the Second Reading, not to rush the Committee stage until he has been kind enough to do what I gather he is going to do, see deputations of societies and allotment holders interested in the matter, and discover to what extent they feel that the balance has now been upset really against them by the Amendments which have been made in another place. He has explained what he intended the Bill to be. As he introduced it it was regarded as a balanced settlement which the allotment holders and the authorities concerned were willing to accept. Considerable alterations have been made since then, and I think my right hon. Friend will find that his path will be quickened in the long run in this House if he will do his best to talk the matter over afresh with those who were mainly instrumental in pressing the allotment holders' views upon him.

But there is one other matter which I must mention. The Bill originally, I think we all agree, sprang from an urban demand. There was a fear lest when the Defence of the Realm Act regulations were abandoned they would not get any real substitute, and that a great deal of Defence of the Realm land would have to be given up, and the local authorities would not be able to get any fair substitute for it. That matter arose in that way—the urban demand to get extra powers of getting land, and, if necessary, to give up the compensation in return for these extra privileges. The Bill, so far as compensation was concerned, was confined when it left this House entirely to allotment gardens, and they, instead of being left undefined altogether as in the Act of 1920, have been defined—I think rightly. I think the definition is quite a sound one, and refers to land of less than 40 rods held for certain purposes. It was perfectly right to make such a definition and the line has been drawn in the right place. My point is that it was only with regard to urban allotments that the question really arose, and that any willingness has been expressed to exchange a certain amount of compensation on the one side against a certain amount of improvement in the powers of getting hold of the land on the other side. The law with regard to allotments, as distinguished from allotment gardens, has been joined to the law dealing with allotment gardens, and it is hoped that this Bill when it becomes an Act, will be the law of allotments pure and simple. In doing that, I think inadvertently, a very considerable disservice and injury has been done in the case of pieces of land which will now be defined as allotments between a quarter of an acre and two acres. There will no longer be allotments up to five acres at all if this Bill consolidates the allotment law and defines an allotment as being a piece of land between one-quarter of an acre and two acres. Under these conditions, the power of acquiring five acres will go altogether.

What is going to be done in regard to compensation in the case of allotments of a quarter of an acre to two acres? Under the Agriculture Act, those pieces of land were left with, at any rate, a year's rent as compensation for disturbance. The Act of 1920 dealt with small holdings and allotment gardens, but it was doubtful whether that Act dealt with allotments; in fact, there was a doubt whether it dealt with them at all, either in Section 10 or Section 12. My main point is that whereas the Bill as originally drafted represented the whole of the proceedings of the Committee, and was intended with regard to compensation to refer only to small plots, now defined as an allotment garden, and to refer only to the urban question, now by the action of another place it refers only to the plot of land between a quarter of an acre and two acres, and instead of leaving these plots under the liberal provision as to compensation provided in the previous Act, this Bill cuts out the compensation for disturbance altogether. Really, the allotment question is now left hanging between heaven and earth in this respect. The special compensation provided for under Section 11 of the Agriculture Act is to be repealed, and that Act will apply only to a holding which cannot be defined as including an allotment.

At first I feared that there was some deep plot on the part, of another place to get a bit of their own back, and whereas they were required to give heavy compensation to their agricultural tenants, they are now taking advantage of this opportunity to cut down compensation even when it applies only to the small allotment holder. As no compensation is to he given to the allotment holder, the temptation will be very great, in the case of anyone applying for a small piece of land, for the owner to say, "We will let it to you as a small allotment, between a quarter acre or two acres, but if you want a larger allotment it must be divided up between two or more persons, because then if I desire to do so I can get rid of you without paying compensation, whereas if it is a small holding I shall have to pay considerable compensation." I am quite certain that the Government never intended to interfere with the compensation to be given to smallholders in such cases.

I am sufficiently encouraged by the interruption of the right hon. Gentleman to know that this matter has only got to be gone into in order to have it put right. This question of compensation in these cases is a very important one, and even a 30- or a 40-rod plot is on a different basis to that of a one or two-acre plot on which a man may make his living, and we ought not to interfere with those areas under this Bill. I know this matter will be looked into. I am sure the Minister of Agriculture will be making more haste in the long run if he will go into some of these matters with the representatives of local authorities and allotment holders before he rushes this Measure through its remaining stages.

I think the House will agree with me when I say that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) has been a very exhaustive one, although I do not believe that the balance of that speech has been fair to the Bill. Speaking for the National Union of Allotment Holders, and representing the great body of allotment holders in this country, they certainly regard this Bill as a great step forward, and T wish the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne had been able to point to many of the undoubted benefits which will occur to allotment holders as the result of this proposed legislation. This Measure is based upon the Report of the Departmental Committee which sat recently. The Report of that Committee was unanimous. On that Committee there sat representatives, not only of the allotment holders, but of local authorities up and down the country. It is perfectly true to say that the balance of the Bill has, to some extent, been disturbed in its passage through another place, but it is also true to say, in justice to what has been done there, that alterations have taken place which on the one hand benefit allotment holders, although perhaps on the other hand there may be some alterations which are detrimental to them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne was not quite correct in regard to the question of compensation, and I think it is only fair to say that a Clause was inserted in another place which gave full compensation to the allotment holders—I am referring to Clause 7 of the Bill, Sub-section (2).

I agree that the allotment holders of the country do not require compensation so much as security of tenure, and the action that was taken in another place but hardly recognised that fact. They were anxious in another place to give full compensation to allotment holders when they were disturbed or evicted from their holdings, but so far as the provisions of the Bill dealing with security of tenure are concerned, they were considerably weakened. I hope that before this Bill obtains a Second Reading the Minister of Agriculture will give us a more positive assurance as to what he proposes to do in regard to the alterations which have been made in the Bill. The most serious part of this matter is this. In March, 1923, no fewer than a quarter of a million of allotment holders are to be evicted from their holdings. I suppose there are in this country to-day upwards of 1,000,000 allotment holders, and it is a very unfortunate fact that one quarter of these will, unless something is done, have to give up their allotments without any provision being made for them. Most of these men, it will be agreed, have proved themselves perfectly efficient in their work, and they ought certainly to be encouraged by this House to continue this very excellent national effort. Another matter of which seriously complain is in reference to what has taken place in the other House. When the Noble Lord, on behalf of the Government, introduced this Bill he stated, as one of the reasons for its urgency, that 250,000 allotment holders were about to be evicted and that under the first Clause of the Bill power was to be given to the local authorities practically to take the place of the Minister of Agriculture and in all proper cases to obtain land for the allotment holders who were about to be evicted. They were to obtain that land by a shortened process without reference to the Minister. Yet when that Clause was dealt with in another place it was wholly deleted, and I am afraid that, as a result, and owing to the complications and delays which must of necessity take place under the provisions of the Land Settlement Act, by which reference has to be made to the. Minister of Agriculture in every case before the local authority can acquire land—a very severe blow will be dealt to the movement, if my right hon. Friend is not prepared to put that matter right when the Committee stage of this Bill is reached. I want to tell him that, so far as I am associated with this movement, we shall bring every possible pressure to bear upon him to restore to the Bill the Clause which was deleted in another place, by which power was given to the local authorities to quickly and compulsorily acquire land for this 250,000 allotment holders.

Again, when this Bill was introduced power was given to the local authorities to acquire land. If the owner desired to terminate the arrangement he had in certain cases to give six months' notice, and in certain other cases three months' notice to obtain repossession of the land. Three months' notice was to be given if the land was required for important and urgent purposes. Under the Bill as originally introduced by my right hon. Friend all land was treated alike, but in the other House a very considerable alteration has been made. Land has been divided into two classes. If a private owner has let his land for allotments, he has to give the six months' or the three months' notice. as the case may be, but an alteration has now been made whereby, if the land belongs to a railway company, a dock company, a water company, or, in the words of the Clause, "other public under taking"—whatever that may mean—that particular body of persons can immediately re-enter upon the land without giving any notice at all. I regard that as a most important and vital alteration. I cannot conceive why great undertakings such as those referred to should not be just as able as the private individual to look ahead and to give the three months' or six months' notice required under this Bill. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, will give some indication of his intentions in this connection, and will at any rate indicate to the House that he intends to proceed upon the lines on which the Bill was originally introduced.

Clause 13 of the Bill provides for the setting up by local authorities of allotment committees, and that provision was severely attacked in the other House. I venture to say, however, that, if the allotment movement is to progress, its best means of progression is by cordial co-operation between the allotment holders and the local authorities, and, having regard to the splendid work that has been done, and to the value of the movement, I consider that, when a local authority says, "We are not prepared to set up an allotment committee," it is perfectly right that the Clause enacting that a local authority must set up a committee should be put into operation. I venture to say that very little harm can come to the local authorities from the setting up of such a committee. In the first place, the allotment committee is a committee subject to the jurisdiction of the council as a whole; and, secondly, the committee only has to include a minority of representatives of allotment holders. Therefore, I think that very little harm indeed can be done by that provision, while a great deal of good can be done to the movement. I trust that when my right hon. Friend replies he will say that he is determined to stand by this provision in the Bill, to which the allotment holders of the country attach the greatest importance.

My last point is with regard to an omission from the Bill. It was suggested in the other House that the greatest need of the allotment holder to-day is security of tenure. That is true, and the only way, or, at any rate, the best way, in which the allotment holder can obtain security of tenure is by purchasing the freehold. At the end of the discussion in the other House a Clause was suggested, but, owing to lack of time, it could not be considered. Its object was to authorise the Public Works Loan Commissioners to make advances to allotment societies to enable them to purchase allotments under the provisions of this Bill. I venture to say to my right hon. Friend that that is a Clause which he might well consider. It is perfectly true that the allotment holders accept this Bill, and they accept it on the basis that the allotments of the country are to be self-supporting. They are not asking the country or the State to assist them as far as money is concerned. I do think, however, that it is a reasonable request, even at this present time, that, at any rate, so far as loans are concerned, upon proper and reasonable security, the Public Works Loan Commissioners should come to their assistance and help to enable them to purchase the land for their allotments. I do not want to finish my remarks upon a basis of criticism, because apart altogether from politics, which counts very little, because one of the great benefits of the allotment movement is that there is no politics in it at all, I wish to say, on behalf of a very large number of allotment holders, that they thank the right hon. Gentleman for the introduction of the Bill, and for the great personal interest he has always shown in the movement, and they hope he will be able to continue his interest in it and to stand, so far as he can, by the Bill as originally introduced.

I wish to support the Second Reading for two principal reasons, the first being that it goes a very long way towards meeting that wish for security of tenure, in so far as it is possible and compatible with the major interest, the industrial interest, to give that security of tenure, and at the same time provide for the new industrial development. In the second place it is going to give a certain measure of compensation when allotments are given up, and to that extent it meets the legitimate and proper wishes of allotment holders. I also welcome the Bill as one who has served on local authorities for many years, and in the capacity of Chairman of a county council for the Clause which empowers county councils to provide allotments and deal with the allotment movement direct themselves. They are bodies which should be entrusted with these powers, and in the course of the development of the smallholdings movement it frequently happens that they require land, and have been unable, so far, satisfactorily to deal with the situation that then arises. I should like to say a word in regard to Clause 13 (1), in regard to which we want more information and more light. Under this Clause it is to be in future a statutory obligation that the council of every borough and every urban district council shall establish an allotment committee, to which all matters relating to allotments shall stand automatically referred. It has been argued elsewhere that the reason for this mandatory provision is that certain local' authorities have proved dilatory and recalcitrant and have not satisfactorily dealt with the wishes of allotment holders in their districts. In a general way I hold that the more you trust local authorities to carry out their duties, the less you tell them the way in which they are to carry them out, the more efficiently will they discharge their duties, and it is far better for them to determine the method, the machinery, the manner and the system by which they shall discharge their statutory obligations themselves than it is for them to be told by Act of Parliament. Moreover, I hold that it is in the public interest that matters should be dealt with, not on a sectional line, in the interest of one particular section, but by general committees in which there is that very necessary balance of interests which alone leads to good local government. Therefore I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us if it is owing to recalcitrant authorities that he requires these special powers. We are unable to obtain the evidence given before the Departmental Committee on Allotments, on which this Bill is largely based. I am strongly in favour of economy, but there are some things we should not economise on. In cases like this, where we are dealing with the interests of no fewer than 1,163,000 allotment holders, it is a pity that the evidence is not available so that we could probe the matter and see how far the findings of the Committee are in accordance with the views expressed before them. I support the proposal, provided that due evidence is forthcoming that certain councils have been recalcitrant, to set up Statutory committees in this particular case, because I believe it will tend to focus the attention of urban dwellers upon the agricultural situation generally. Agriculture, which employs more persons than any other industry, is terribly in need of the assistance and support of the urban dweller. Many urban dwellers take the view that you have only to tickle the earth and she will automatically smile plentifully upon the cultivator, not realising the great and grave difficulties which he is always up against. I suggest that more elasticity might be given, so that groups of committees might be formed. It may be that the best way of operating the Bill would be by means of grouping up committees. I find no such power incorporated in the Bill.

On Clause 13 (2) I should like to draw attention to the co-opted members. This Sub-section lays it down that the allotments committee shall comprise co-opted members less than one-half, but not less than one-third of the total members of the committee. It may be considered desirable in the special circumstances that there should be co-opted members, but I Would remind the House that hitherto Parliament has laid down somewhat rigidly in regard to most matters, the exclusion from local authorities of persons whose interests, by reason of contracts or otherwise, might at any time tend to differ from the general interest of the ratepayers as a whole. That, perhaps, is not an analogous case. It is possible out of a committee of 100 to be 49 co-opted members and 51 members elected by the ratepayers. How has the 49–51 basis been selected? That seems to exceed the legitimate arid proper needs of the case, and it is undesirable to have such an extensive system of co-option introduced into the Bill and imposed upon the authorities concerned. Many local authorities object, lock, stock and barrel, to co-opted members, and claim that some of their difficulties, particularly in connection with education, are due to the presence of co-opted members. I do not know whether that is the case. I think the infusion of a certain number of co-opted members, who bring a view which is largely an independent or personal view, is desirable, but it is only desirable so long as the total membership is kept low I hope there will be no tampering with the principles upon which local government has been built up. We do not want the substitution of Sovietism. I hope that councils which have long attained their majority will be given more power in this matter, and that there will be no unnecessary treading upon their toes, because these councils are essentially, above and beyond all else, democratic bodies. They are publicly elected, answerable directly and at very frequent intervals to the ratepayers. What would be the attitude of this House if, when any special subject or interest were under consideration and were sent up to a Committee, the proposal were made that no fewer than 49 out of every 100 members of that Committee were to be added as co-opted members? It would lead to very unsatisfactory results. I hope that a wise discretion will be used in this matter, and that the obligation to have a great many co-opted members will be reduced considerably. The first consideration should be that in all acts handed on to local authorities we should look for efficiency of government, and, above all, economy; and we cannot get economy if we have large blocks of members who stand for themselves and are not answerable to the ratepayers.

My hon. Friend who has just sat down has dealt with one Clause in this Bill which is of great consequence, both by what it has in it and by the example and precedent which it might easily become. Before I say a word or two from a point of view somewhat similar to but not identical with that of the last speaker, I should like to join previous speakers in thanking my right hon. Friend for bringing this Bill before another place and bringing it here. There can be no question that this Bill does help what is a very good cause. It does encourage the development of allotments, particularly in urban areas. I am confident that the House, without a Division, will give it a Second Reading. Even when we are discussing the Second Reading of a Bill which we welcome, we cannot help taking up a large portion of the time given to the discussion with criticism of the Measure, though we approve of it as a whole. But this Bill shows many signs of being the outcome of various negotiations and arrangements and compromises which have taken place outside this House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland), who treated the matter with so minute and balanced an analysis, referred to a certain balance which he said was arrived at by the Departmental Committee. Departmental Committees are very valuable in their way, as all who have had the privilege of serving on them recognise. But balances arrived at by such Committees have no inherent authority binding this House. Bills brought here are to be decided upon their merits, and by Members of the House according to their varying points of view and experiences. I hope that I am not wasting the time of the House in uttering a respectful protest against a heresy which seemed to lurk in my right hon. Friend's mellifluous sentences, when he said that a balance arrived at by persons more or less eminent had any binding force whatever in this House.

I am warmly in agreement with this Bill. But, as is the case with respect to many things with which I am in cordial. agreement, I desire sincerely to remove what I believe to be blemishes. There are one or two blemishes in this Bill which are unnecessary. Whether they have their origin in another place or in the Department over which my right hon. Friend presides or in the minds of the million and a quarter people for whom the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) speaks, I do not know. Blemishes they are. One is the extraordinary proposal that where councils take land for allotments some little way out of the town, they are to be authorised to reduce tram fares for the allotment holders. Surely, if they know their business, the councils will get allotments some little way out of the town more cheaply than they could get them nearer, and they will, therefore, be in a position to, and ought to, let those allotments at lower rents, and the persons who hold the allotments will thereby be in a position to meet the expense of going out to their land, whereas if the allotments were close at home in an urban district they would have higher rents. If we are to have special facilities for this class and the other class, there is no end to it. I hope we have not yet got to the point at which any and every Bill brought forward for good purposes and with good in it is not to be considered finished and rounded unless there is a taint of dole about it. Surely this proposal is quite unnecessary to the structure of the Bill, and I hope my right hon. Friend will see that it will not help allotment holders, but will form a very bad precedent in local administration.

The other point is that with which the last speaker dealt on Clause 13. I am one who has been supporting allotments and working for them, as far as my abilities permitted, for at least 30 years. I am most anxious to help. But, speaking as one who has been on a good many local bodies for a long time, I say it is not the way to help in a matter of this kind if you weaken the authority of representative government and depend on hybrid committees whose responsibility is diffused, so that the impetus of public feeling is easily choked. The proper method is one which has appeared over and over again in Acts of Parliament. It is to say to a local authority, "There are certain duties put upon you by Parliament. If you do not discharge those duties, then the Government Department most, concerned will have power of default." I agree as to that, and I would have those powers of default extended to the larger local authorities as well as the smaller. I am all for coming down on a local authority if it does not do its duty. But when you tell it to do its duty, tell it what its duty is, and say you will act in default of it if it neglects that duty; do not tie it hand and foot as to how it is to do its duty. Leave it to do its duty in its own way. If you tie it down and say, "You are to have a special committee and that committee is to be constituted in a special way," what happens? You are weakening the interest which the local authority will take in that subject as compared with other subjects in which it is not similarly fettered, and you are weakening the very forces of local government which depend upon power being in the hands of persons elected by the whole community and not by persons brought in here and there to represent sections, or represent, it may be, the transient judgment of the Minister of the Department in question. That is bad administration. Many of us who are as anxious as possible to help the development of this great allotment movement are most concerned that that development.should, in this Bill, be mixed up with bad administrative proposals such as this. English local government has suffered, democratic feeling has suffered, the quickening of local public interest in matters of administration has suffered, by this late-born fashion for hybrid committees of all kinds. There was some excuse for it in the War, otherwise you would not have got things done at all. There is no excuse for it now, and it ought to be diminished in the subjects to which it applies instead of being made to apply to other subjects.

I ask my right hon. Friend most earnestly, not to weaken and prejudice the Bill by linking up with it this bad method of procedure. The air is full of rumours as to some mysterious bargain with interested people elsewhere. It is not worthy of the Government or this House to pay particular attention to any such matter as a preliminary to legislation. Make every council, as set out in the Bill, with over ten thousand population, responsible for dealing with the problem of allotment gardens within its area. If they do not do so, then exercise stringent powers of default, but do not put it on them that they must have a particular committee, or at any rate do not prescribe how the committee is to be composed. It will be composed in the proper way if you engage the interest of the local authorities in the matter. If you flout the local authorities, you will find in the end you are not getting out of them the good work which we all desire to get out of them in connection with allotments. It is extremely important that the House should look very jealously on any proposal to disturb democratic administration under the guise of helping one particular section or even for the purpose of advancing one particular matter towards which the House is properly sympathetic. With the Bill in general I am in strong agreement. I think some of the modifications made in another place might be re-modified, but even as it stands, if Clause 13 were put on a proper basis it would be a valuable Bill, and I sincerely hope it will result in strong and permanent advantage to the allotment movement in this country.

I understand the Minister of Agriculture is anxious to get the Second Reading of this Bill to-night; therefore I shall not detain the House long. While welcoming the Bill generally. I am not sure that the Minister has done well to permit the removal of those Clauses which gave compensation under the Agriculture Act, 1920. My feeling is that this step will not help, in any way, in the acquisition of land. It will not make the landowners who now object to giving land, ready to give it more freely. While the abandonment of these Clauses may result in some extra facilities for acquiring land, it is a dangerous step. It is bargaining away to a certain extent, the birthright of the allotment holders in return for a very uncertain advantage. The question of compensation for rural allotment holders, as affected by the Bill, is a very serious one, and we shall certainly introduce Amendments to secure that the holders of these allotments of one to two acres, will not suffer by the removal of the Clauses giving the compensation originally allowed under the Agriculture Act, 1920. So long as that is secured to the rural allotment holders it will go far to satisfy them. We must have the country allotment holder secured so that there is the least possible chance of disturbance.

It is unfortunate that an important question of this sort should come on at the fag end of the Sitting and that we should have considerably less than three hours in which to consider it after having spent a much longer period in discussing matters at the end of the earth which are not of the same interest to the people of this country as this question of allotments. With regard to Clause 13, which has aroused the ire of two hon. Members who preceded me, whilst with all humbleness differing from the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins), I must confess that with some experience, though not equal to his, of local government, it has been the practice of many local authorities up to the present to co-opt members of allotment committees. Having done so, they have found that the expert knowledge and experience possessed by those Members has enabled them to get on with the work even under the old regime. It is something of a fetish to suggest that local government must be left entirely in the hands of those elected to local authorities. That was no doubt sound constitutional practice when the local authority was concerned with only two or three subjects, but in modern days, when the local authority has to consider everything that concerns the commercial, industrial and social wellbeing of the community, it is impossible for any authority to give the time to make itself cognisant with all those subjects. I welcome the fact that while the local authority controls the policy it does co-opt members who are experts in order to get their guidance. I submit that that makes for economy, and that the allotment holders who have to pay the rent themselves and make the holdings work on a sound, economic, self-supporting basis, are better able to organise and run the allotments than the members of a local authority elected entirely from themselves. Therefore, I hope the Minister will adhere to that part of the Bill.

I must express my regret that after the most sympathetic speech which the Minister made in regard to this measure it is not more sweeping and stronger in substance. I hope that he will restore those portions which were rejected in another place. I hope that, realising the disadvantages from which allotment holders suffer in not being able to get land as cheaply and quickly as possible, and the want of facilities under which the Local Loans Commissioners can lend money to societies interested in allotments, the right hon. Gentleman will, in Committee, put in that Clause which was rejected elsewhere after a somewhat cursory examination, and so enable the Local Loans Commissioners to lend money to societies to acquire land. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will strengthen the Bill by restoring this proviso.

Everyone who has travelled about the country must be convinced of the fact that allotments are desired in every direction. My right hon. Friend who introduced this Bill was able to explain to us that a very great deal of the demand for allotments arose in urban districts. There is no doubt that that is so. This Bill is largely devoted to urban subjects, and I suggest that in order to work it satisfactorily and enthusiastically, and in order that it may be taken up by as many people as possible, it is certainly advisable that the municipal corporations of this country should be perfectly satisfied with all the terms and conditions of this Bill. My right hon. Friend will allow me to say that at the present time that is not so. Attention has been directed by hon. Members to two important points, and reference has been made with force to the obnoxious proposal of co-opting on these committees men who are associated with allotments. Whatever may be our view, that which I am putting forward now is the view of the municipal corporations themselves. They very strongly object to this specially co-opted committee. They say it is contrary to the principle attending local organisations and local authorities, and if this kind of thing is going to be introduced into Bills it will create a great deal of difficulty in future. If you have special committees for allotments, why not special committees for other things that are very important in connection with the administration of local affairs? Mention has been made of the co-optation of teachers, and I am not so sure that that is working as satisfactorily as was hoped.

As to the question of tramway fares, the municipal corporations contend that in order to benefit any particular class of people like allotment holders, you do it at the expense of the other ratepayers. Not being satisfied with that, my right hon. Friend has introduced in his Bill certain expenses which are to be excluded from the cost of these particular allotments, and he mentioned three, but I do not think he mentioned them in the correct words. They are to be exempted from
  • "(a.) expenses in relation to the acquisition of land other than the purchase price or rent, or other compensation payable in respect of the land;
  • (b) expenses incurred in making roads to be used by the public;
  • (c) sinking fund charges in respect of loans raised in connection with the purchase of land."
  • The views of the municipal corporations are these, that they do not object to the expenses in making roads to be used by the public being thrust on the ratepayers generally, because those roads are used by all the ratepayers throughout the district, but they object to the other items being thrown on the ratepayers. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in his introduction stated that these things should be self-supporting, but if that be the case, these items to which I have referred should certainly have been taken into consideration. There is another point to which I wish to call attention, and that is in Clause 19, relating to parts of the New Forest now used for allotment gardens, and, in particular, I want to call attention to Sub-section (4) of that Clause. My right hon. Friend knows, I presume, that there is a great deal of discontent amongst certain classes of people in the New Forest in connection with this Bill. In particular, there is a class of persons there who claim to have relief under the Poor Relief Act, 1831, that enabled the then churchwardens and overseers to provide for each parish allotments not exceeding 50 acres in extent, and that that should be out of the Forest or waste lands of the Crown lands, and with the permission, of course, of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. That enables poor people in those districts to get that class of land more cheaply than any other kind of land, and they feel very keenly in regard to this Bill. They are very much in arms in the New Forest to think that this particular class of Forest land—

    I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I would appeal to him to let us get the Second Reading of the Bill to-night. I promise fully to consider all the points he has mentioned and the other points that have been raised to-night in the Debate.

    11. 0 P.M.

    I have been waiting a long time, and I do not see why I should not be allowed to discuss this question. If my right hon. Friend only knew how keenly this particular point is felt amongst the poor people in the New Forest, largely consisting as they do of ex-service men, he would appreciate the importance of my bringing it up on Second Reading. At the same time, I do not want to spoil the right hon. Gentleman's chance of getting the Second Reading of the Bill to-night.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.