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Relaxation Of Ministerial Control Of Authorities

Volume 987: debated on Thursday 3 July 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 30, leave out subsection (5).

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 2, in page 2, line 31, after 'effect', insert

'(but not before January 1st 1982)'.

No. 224, in page 123, line 39, leave out Schedule 5.

We now come to the main body of the Bill. The first two amendments and the later amendment are not tabled in order to persuade the Government that they ought to take more interest in, or to have more sympathy with, the allotments movement. We were grateful in Committee for the fact that the Minister of State and the Government responded to several suggestions that we made to stay the hand of the Government in repealing certain enactments. We therefore start this short debate not at cross purposes with the Government, because they believe, as we do, that the allotments movement is one that ought to be fostered and encouraged.

The House needs to be reminded that the genesis of the Government's intentions in this respect, as in many others that were sought to be repealed, comes from the oft-trumpeted cry of the Government, and particularly the Secretary of State, that it was their intention to leave everything to local people because the local people know best. I have no doubt that a great many people in the House would subscribe to that maxim.

The question that was raised time and again in Committee was whether local authorities could be trusted to act in the local and national interests on allotments. The rationale of schedule 5 and clause 1 is that local authorities can be trusted, but trusted against the background that they would accept the obligation under section 23 of the 1908 Act. That obligation is
"to provide a sufficient number of allotments."
The country must grapple with the question of whether, against the legislative safeguard and assertion that local authorities are under an obligation to provide a sufficient number of allotments, the record shows that they have.

6.30 pm

The picture as to the size of the allotment movement is patchy. One of the reasons for our sadness has been the inability of the Government and local authorities to monitor fully and faithfully the extent to which there is an allotment movement. In 1969 it was estimated that there were about 560,000 allotments covering 60,000 acres of land. By 1977, the number had declined to 498,000 allotments covering 50,000 acres. Every year during the 1970s the country lost 72,000 acres of land as a result of development and road building. It is not possible to leave either to local authorities or to the Government on a loose rein an obligation to provide a sufficient number of allotments if that is the yardstick against which we measure.

I ask the Government to stay their hand on the repeals listed in the schedule, and speed up the updating of the recommendations of the Thorpe report. The Government submitted to the Committee proposals for the repeal of 10 Acts which they felt were superfluous to the task of local authorities and the Government. I remind the House that in Committee the Government decided to drop one of the repeals that were sought. We argued strongly about that, and the Government conceded that they were willing to grant the repeal. The Government resisted all the other amendments. The amendments include questions of how money that is obtained from the disposal of allotment land should be used. We say that it should be used to improve and extend the allotments. The Government believe that that should be left to the discretion of local people.

The Under-Secretary of State must consider, in the context of what I believe is a terrorising climate that the Government are visiting upon local authorities in their determination to cut, slash, revise and repeal—given the opportunity that this repeal would allow to sell allotment land—a temptation to sell some land. Having sold the land, and diminished the amount of land available for allotments, the local authority may then decide to use the money for other purposes.

In Committee we were told that there is a legal obligation within the legislation for the provision of allotments, but without legislative safeguards—the schedule does away with the legislative safeguards—the legislative obligation is simply paying lip service to the law. In Committee we said that we were unhappy that section 54 of the 1908 Act was to be repealed. That provides a statutory obligation to keep separate allotment accounts. The Government consider that there is no need in the 1980s for an authority to keep separate allotment accounts. That sits rather strange with a Government who later, in clause 2, insist upon local authorities not only keeping accounts but publishing them and making information as widely available as possible.

So much for open government. On the one hand, the Government are professing to open the books and to train the searchlight on town halls, but, on the other they intend to remove the present safeguards. That is not only retrograde; it is hypocritical. The Government are saying that experience has proved that some of these legislative safeguards are seldom, if ever, used and that, therefore, they can be repealed. That overlooks the fact that the reason why these safeguards are seldom used is often simply that they are there. One does not dispense with a watchdog simply because it has never been called into action, and one does not repeal legislation simply because no one has had the need to use it. Often it is a powerful safeguard simply because it exists.

It is the duty of Parliament to ensure that the minority interests—allotment holders are minority interests—are protected. Whose job is it to encourage the allotment movement? Who has the job of making better use of waste land and getting better value out of our land? Who has the job of encouraging recreational gardens?

I turn now to the gravamen of the Opposition amendment. We are not saying that there is not a need for the repeal of some aspects of the allotment legislation.

The Thorpe report was commissioned by the Labour Government in the 1960s, and it was published in 1969. It is not to our credit, nor is it to the credit of the Government, that it has taken about 10 years for the Thorpe report to be re-examined. The Minister told the Committee that the Government were minded to look seriously at the question whether now was the time to update the Thorpe report and bring forward legislation in a suitable form. The Minister said:
"At present we are considering comprehensive legislation to take in the Thorpe report. There has been in the background of the Government's thinking for some time what is called a recreational gardening Bill."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 12 February 1980; c. 46.]
If there is not an open door, at least the Government are sympathetic to the need for comprehensive legislation. But the Minister went a little too far when he told the Committee that this radical reforming Administration were looking at the matter seriously. We want the Government not only to look at it seriously but to give us a commitment that they will legislate.

We think that it is better to wait a little longer, to bring the Thorpe report's recommendations out of the 1960s into the 1980s, to take on the main thrust of the Thorpe report and to legislate along a number of lines.

For example, one of the Thorpe report's recommendations—there are over 40 such recommendations—is to abolish the term "allotments" and to replace it with the term "leisure gardens". I do not think that there could be any exception to that. It wants to create established and non-established sites, to oblige authorities to provide established leisure gardens at the rate of half an acre per thousand population and to register leisure gardens with the Department of the Environment so that we may know precisely the size. It wants each local authority to have a strategic plan to develop and to improve leisure gardens. It wants to improve communications and participation between authorities and gardeners and it wants gardeners to accept their obligations. Incidentally, recommendation No. 42 suggests that a leisure gardens authority.
"should be permitted, if it so desires, to set aside special areas of land for the keeping of pigeons or small livestock".
A number of people—one might call them small, but I know that the Minister would not say that they were unimportant—have taken a great interest in this matter. I received a letter from the editor of The Racing Pigeon in which he said:
"As you may know, a number of allotments, particularly in the North, are used by racing pigeon fanciers to keep their thoroughbreds, usually with friendly relationships with the other allotment users. We are therefore concerned with the new Local Government, Planning and Land Bill".
I use that as an illustration. I accept that there are many people outside the House whom the Government wish to assist. They await the outcome with a great deal of interest.

In view of the welter of new regulations and requirements being imposed on local authorities, we want the Government to take more time to get the matter right. We cannot believe that councils are desperately waiting for these repeals to take place. They can be patient a little longer. The amendments will give the Government the opportunity to take a little more time and to do the job right. It is in that spirit that I commend the amendments to the House.

The first public office that I held was that of chairman of the allotments sub-committee of Southampton corporation. This debate takes me back a few years. When I was first appointed to that exalted position I felt that I was in for a fairly quiet life, but I was wrong. I do not know whether any hon. Member here has served on the allotments committee of any council, but I can say that such committees often generate great passion, disagreement and interest.

Why do many councils have separate allotments committees? It is because they and ordinary people regard allotments as very important. I am not happy about changing the name from "allotments" to "leisure gardens". Many people today have allotments not for leisure but to save money. With the cost of food today, someone who has an allotment can save himself a substantial amount of money. During the past few years we have built high-rise flats. Allotments have provided flat dwellers with the opportunity not only to get out and have a leisure interest but to save money.

Allotments are under threat for two reasons. First, in many of our large cities where allotments are needed most there is a shortage of land. Any council looking for land tends to look first at allotments. It does not look at the parks, because they are areas of natural beauty. If a council took a piece of parkland on which to build there would be a tremendous outcry from the public, but people do not take the same general view of allotments.

6.45 pm

Secondly, councils are now looking at allotment land as revenue-raising potential. For example, if they change their planning permission within their own machinery from allotment to building land, they can sell it and make a considerable sum of money, which can help their revenue. In view of the squeeze that is being levied on local authorities by the Government, local authorities are looking for every penny that they can find, and I suspect that many of them will have their eyes on allotments.

I have had many representations, as have others, I am sure, from allotment associations and individuals who use and maintain allotments to do my best to save them. I should be opposed to any proposal that would weaken the position of allotment holders or associations. I believe that the Government should be able to act as an appeal body against a local authority's decision to take away or change the use of an allotment. We should keep every possible safeguard, because allotments will become even more important in future. For example, I think that allotments will grow in importance for people who live in high-rise flats. On the other hand, allotment land will be looked at with greedy eyes by authorities which may think that they can make money out of them by using them for other purposes.

I support any amendment that will safeguard the position of allotments and allotmenteers.

I support everything that has been said by the hon. Members for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) and Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell).

The hon. Member for Edmonton waxed eloquently at length in Committee on the subject of allotments, and he has repeated his performance today. Indeed, he has covered everything that needs to be said. I think that, largely due to his persuasive powers, the Government made an important concession in Committee when they agreed that the proposed repeal of section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925 should be taken out. I understand that authorities that now wish to sell allotment land will still have to obtain ministerial consent. That is a protection, and we are grateful for it.

As the hon. Member for Itchen said, this comes at the end of the line. Of the other nine repeals, I suggest that five or six at least weaken the position of allotment holders. We know that it will be not the authorities greedily looking for allotments to sell but authorities that are desperate to raise funds which will say "Where else can we look? What can we do to save the situation"? As I suggested in Committee, chief officers will come forward with recommendations to sell allotments. Although they may come up against the Minister at the end of the line, I think that they may find ways around that problem. There is to be the repeal of section 22 of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act 1919, which talks about the appropriation of allotment land for other purposes. Under that guise a chief officer will no doubt be able to suggest ways in which allotment land can be used without having to apply to the Minister for consent to dispose of it. He will be able to use it for other purposes—for example, leasing.

I agree that this proposal weakens the position of allotment holders. I beg the Government to think again. They have a legitimate reason for withdrawing it. The Thorpe report has been lying around for about 10 years. Why not remove the whole schedule and say "We agree that this has caused great concern in the country. We feel that we ought to listen to the views of the many people who have made representations. Therefore, we shall take out this provision and consider whether we can come back with a smaller Bill in order to improve their lot"?

It is important to encourage allotments. The hon. Member for Edmonton gave some figures. If we had figures that were up to date we would probably find that there was a long waiting list for allotments. Many people are desperate to get an allotment, and there is a need to provide more. The Western world may have a surplus of food, but that will not last. The projections for the world population in the years 2000 are frightening. In the next few years more people will need to grow more food for themselves. That should be encouraged. We should not take a step that would take us in the opposite direction.

It should be a priority to encourage those who grow their own food. That priority will be urgent by the 1990s. I beg the Government to think again and to accept one of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Edmonton.

I declare a family interest in an allotment. That form of recreational activity is useful and important. Allotments are particularly important, because some people are not fortunate enough to have large enough gardens in which to grow vegetables or to provide useful recreational activity.

We are increasingly looking at hard accounts. We may be on a plateau of productivity. The quality of life will become even more important. That view is held by many hon. Members—if not the majority—and by the majority of the population. The Government of the day—whatever their political colour—are responsible, and must not do anything to diminish the opportunities for qualitative activities such as gardening. Indeed, such opportunities should be increased.

Although I welcome the Bill's amended form, it still represents a threat. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) made it clear that land given to gardeners many years ago may become a source of speculation by hard-pressed local authorities. If planning permission is given, such authorities can make money overnight. If land is held for future housing development—alas, no longer possible—or for any other reason, it may temporarily be allowed to be used for the purpose of allotments. However, the proposed scheme may be cut back, and the local authority may see a way of making easy money. The Bill contains pressures that will encourage local authorities to do that.

Those who were members of the Committee are only too familiar with the fact that the Bill would put pressures on local authorities to dispose of such land. How much more attractive is it not merely to dispose of the land but to make a big profit, by granting planning permission? Many useful areas of allotment land are close to densely populated areas. People can get to allotments without difficulty. They can travel by foot or on a cycle, and they can carry tools or produce to and from their homes. That qualitative aspect is important. However, those same sites are often the very ones that local authorities wish to dispose of. The existing safeguards are not good enough.

I support the amendment, because the existing legislation is not doing its job. The example that I shall quote to sustain that accusation comes from the London borough of Croydon. The secretary of the London Association of Recreational Gardeners has put together some material and sent it to me. He draws attention to the shocking case of Croydon. That borough has seen a lot of recent development, has a well-planned communications centre and so on.

The association says that the intentions of the existing Act are not being realised. Its secretary says:
"The intentions of this section of the Act were very clearly stated by Minister Tom King during the debate on the Bill in Committee 'D' on February 14th (Col. 102) when he said in respect of allotments account surpluses that 'it remains a legal responsibility on Councils that their first priority is to use proceeds of sales of allotment land, in the first instance, for allotments purposes'."
The words "in the first instance" are underlined. The letter continues:
"There is much evidence in the files of this Association that section 32 of the Act, as it stands, is being considerably abused. The treatment of considerable surpluses from the sale of statutory allotment land in the London borough of Croydon is probably the worst example we have on record, a case where a Council, with the collusion of the Secretary of State for the Environment, has transferred of the order of £250,000 per annum from the Allotments Account to the general rate fund annually and has done for at least five years. Estimates prepared in 1974 for outstanding allotment requirements totalling £62,000 … have never been implemented.
We submit that this practice is far from being in keeping with the intentions of this Section of the Act and in view of Tom King's statement it appears that communications within the Department of the Environment are, to say the least, inadequate."
To back up his accusations the secretary included an interesting letter from the Department of the Environment, which was addressed to the director of finance of the London borough of Croydon. It states:
"I am directed by the Secretary of State for the Environment to refer to your letter of 24 January 1977 and to say that, in pursuance of his powers under Section 54(1) of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, he consents to the transfer of a sum of £266,969 (being accrued revenues in the Allotments Account) to the General Rate Fund for use in connection with any of the statutory authorised functions of the council."
One London borough is doing that. Some hon. Members may think that that borough is relatively enlightened. If that is happening in an enlightened borough, one wonders what might be happening elsewhere.

The London Association of Recreational Gardeners has sent a considerable amount of evidence to show that the existing Act is being circumvented. It points out that, although at least one London borough is putting large sums of money into its general revenue account, it is not replicating existing allotments. If that is so, the law should not be weakened but strengthened. The amendment does not strengthen the law; it merely maintains the status quo. It will still allow Croydon to act in the way claimed by the association. I have every reason to believe that the association's claim is correct, and the case for strengthening the Act is overwhelming. The case for maintaining the status quo can hardly be less.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary has received both formal and informal representations since the end of our Committee proceedings. In view of the clear evidence, I hope that the Government will consider maintaining the status quo. If the status quo is maintained, the Department can still write its letters to the directors of finance, and it can still give permission to any local authority to put these sums into the general rate fund, if it so wishes. Perhaps the Department will wish to encourage that. If it does—and this is a fundamental of parliamentary democracy—those moneys must be kept separate in the local authority's accounts. Let it be transferred, if the council wishes and if the Secretary of State permits it, but if that is done it must be seen to be done, and only by accepting the amendment will that be so.

7 pm

I wish to say here and now that I propose to use the word "allotment". I resent any idea that the phrase should be "leisure garden" or any other euphemism. Most of us are sick of Government legislation in which something is called something else in order that it may be messed around with to the detriment of people.

The allotment legislation was passed in 1908, 1919, 1922 and 1925 during years of high unemployment and low productivity. To bring in legislation now that will weaken the allotment movement when we are going through a time of the same high unemployment and low productivity which caused sensible Governments in the past to bring in legislation whereby people who had insufficient work were given allotments would be a grave mistake.

I am a great fan of allotments, and unlike the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) I have never sat on an allotments committee. Heaven knows, since I have been a Member of Parliament enough people have asked me to intervene on their behalf with the allotment committee. I believe that an allotment is socially, economically and ecologically a good thing. Although I accept that the Government, in cutting rate support grant, are trying ever harder to give local authorities options whereby they may raise money which they previously expected to receive, and in fact received, from central Government, I do not believe that the average local councillor is pleased to have this sort of hot potato put into his hands.

I shall tell the Government Front Bench what will happen. The sale of allotments will be an immensely unpopular act. When one local authority sells allotment land, at the next election the Opposition will say "Vote for us, and in the time-honoured British political tradition we will reverse what the last lot did." Let us face it, that is what British politics are about. It is all a matter of "Vote for us and we will undo what the last lot did." Then the next lot will do the same to the last lot.

I warn the Minister that if this lot are allowed to sell allotments they will lose their seats and the next lot will promise to reverse that, by which time the cost will have gone up and the next lot will will be able to say "Look how badly that lot looked after our local authority finances. We will sell allotments again." The famous two-party system whereby one lot undoes what the last lot did will be perpetuated in local government.

The Government should look again at the amendment of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), calling for delay of the enactment at least until early 1982. It is an eminently sensible suggestion. I am not sure that the Government can go on appointing committees, not looking at their reports and ignoring their recommendations. That has been done three times in the last 10 days. I have had to point out to various Government Departments what the Rothschild report says on one matter and what the Warnock report says on another. Governments set up committees because it is a useful way of buying time. In this case the Thorpe report has been around for 11 years and we are asking for a two-year moratorium so that it can be looked at again with care.

Our constituents will be sorry to see that there are only two Conservative Back Benchers here for this debate. There are only three on the Labour Benches, and two on the Liberal Benches. I should have thought that the allotment holders of this country deserve more.

I shall await the vote with interest. My point is simply that I am in favour of the amendment and I shall support it wholeheartedly.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that any hon. Member who votes against the amendment will be voting, in effect, to liquidate or give permission for the liquidation of, allotments for hard cash which should be provided by other means?

The first round of this debate was in Committee, and I should have been warned that on Report we would have a similar debate.

I was astounded to hear the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) talk about liquidating allotments. We are simply seeking to remove a few controls that we think are unnecessary. I shall give a few examples. Local authorities must make an annual report to the Secretary of State and he must make an annual report to Parliament. That is one of them. The Secretary of State must consent to making a grant or advance to the co-operative allotment society. Rules made by local authorities for the management of their allotments must be confirmed by the Secretary of State. If anyone can see in the removal of that the liquidation of allotments, he is using rather intemperate language.

As the Minister of State made clear in Committee, the Government accept that in no sense must this be seen as an attack on allotments or allotment holders. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) referred to his own service on the allotments committee of his local authority and he said that local authorities were mindful of the need to provide allotments. Councillors are far closer to those who want allotments and those who work them than we are. If the only hope of maintaining a viable allotment organisation in this country rests on the interest of Members of Parliament, we are in a parlous state. I cannot think of any subject which should be more the concern of local representatives or is more suitable for being handled locally than that of allotments.

I repeat that the Government recognise the value and importance of allotments as a source of recreation and food. That is why we accepted an amendment in Committee which meant the retention of section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) scored a victory on that occasion, and he has now returned to the battle hoping that the Government will not continue their policy of removing unnecessary controls. I am afraid that his victory ended with his achievement in Standing Committee.

Because of the anxiety, we retained the provision to require local authorities to obtain the Secretary of State's consent to the appropriation or disposal of statutory allotment land—not only disposal but also appropriation. That was seen as the key safeguard of the interests of plot holders.

I was not a member of the Committee. Did the amendment accepted by the Government refer only to statutory allotment land?

That is my undestanding. If I am wrong, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

I hoped that that provision would allay the understandable fears of the allotment movement. The provision of allotments is essentially for local authorities, which are best able to judge local needs and how to meet them, with the minimum of interference from Whitehall. They should decide what proportion of their resources they are prepared to allocate for allotments, bearing in mind the availability of land and the demands on available financial resources.

The Government are sympathetic to the broad thinking underlying the Thorpe report that the existing legislation on allotments should be tidied up. Allotments—or dare I call them leisure gardens—should not be tucked away in a remote corner but should be regarded as a valuable recreational resource which local authorities should be free to provide in much the same way as they provide other recreational facilities. The Government do not, however, accept that the detailed rules and restrictions that Thorpe envisaged are appropriate in the 1980s, although tenants should be protected from dispossession without reasonable cause. We intend to give the matter detailed consideration when the opportunity permits. The report has been around for some time, and I know that that assurance will not satisfy everyone.

We do not accept that this legislation weakens the Government's powers. It was only after the fullest consideration that we decided that the controls could be dispensed with without causing problems. The proposals in the Bill are designed to get rid of certain controls that the Government exercise over the activities of local authorities in relation to allotments. They have no other purpose.

Item 7 in schedule 5 reads:

"Land Settlement (Facilities) Act 1919 (c. 59) 7. Section 22(1) (consent to appropriation of land)."
Local authorities, because of financial restrictions, may, for instance, wish to move the sanitation department to allotment land and sell off the vacant land. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, appropriation remains.

I note what the hon. Gentleman says.

The proposals in the Bill are designed to get rid of controls which we believe serve no useful purpose.

The DOE circular in 1974 gave councils a blanket consent under section 32(2) of the 1908 Act to apply allotment money to other purposes, where they considered it to be surplus to requirements. The hon. Member for Newham, South gave the example of Croydon. However, financial protections remain. In Committee we more than met the anxieties expressed.

I hope that the Minister agrees that the example I gave is correct. The figures show that I am not exaggerating. The hon. Gentleman says that financial safeguards still remain. Does that mean that at a later stage in the Bill the Government will agree to there being an obligation on local authorities to maintain separate accounts, even though they do not need the permission of the Minister to sell land? An obligation on councils to maintain separate accounts would not be onerous and would protect ratepayers and allotment holders alike.

7.15 pm

I believe that local authorities will automatically keep separate accounts. We are not removing the necessity for the Secretary of State to be notified, and I do not accept that local authorities will behave in the way implied by the hon. Gentleman's question. We believe that local authorities can be trusted to run their allotments. The restrictions under the 1908, 1919 and 1925 Acts will still apply, and it will be extremely difficult for local authorities not to keep separate accounts if they are to remain within the law.

I repeat that the Government firmly believe that the removal of controls will not cause the hardship suggested. In Committee we agreed to retain the provision that the Secretary of State has to be notified before disposal of land. We believe that we have done more than enough to meet the anxieties. I invite the House to oppose the amendment.

The Minister has increased our anxieties. In Committee we read more into his words than we should, and therefore we did not press other amendments. He said that he was minded to look at the possibility of more comprehensive legislation based on the Thorpe report. We believed that that review would be tied to some time scale and not put off until next year, some time or never. I do not accuse the Minister of misleading us. However, he expressed anxiety about any damage that may be caused to the allotment movement. We wish to spur on the Government to provide legislation in the next 18 months.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were merely removing a few controls, which he suggests are superfluous or minimal. Why, therefore, carry through the legislation? Why go through these traumas if the Government are serious about acting on the Thorpe report in the next two or three years? The anxiety may be unnecessary, but many people are concerned about the legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) gave a good example of what can happen even under the present legislation. It is possible for money from the sale of allotments to be transferred to a general rate fund. The transfer of £264,000 was not only desired by the Croydon local authority but endorsed by the Department of the Environment. We are not suggesting that there was skullduggery, but local authorities may decide to use such windfalls in ways other than for allotments.

People not only need a champion to question the diminution of allotments in Croydon, Newham or Southampton; they need to be assured that, if land is sold to make a profit and they lose, say, 200 allotments in one area, the same number will be provided in another part of the town. We are not saying that local authorities ought to provide more allotments, though my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) rightly pointed out that it is not merely a question of maintaining the existing number of allotments, because there is a need for more and there are waiting lists.

We are not suspicious of the Government's general sympathy with the allotment movement, but the repeal of the various Acts makes many people uneasy about what may happen. In the past councils may have been happy to maintain an allotment programme, but the Government have changed the climate. The Secretary of State is telling councils to look at their staffing levels, rates and income. Any council that wishes to respond meaningfully is bound to look at the possibility that there may be some land that is not in demand and could be sold.

Many hon. Members have served on councils and we do not impugn the integrity of councils. But we all know that a chief officer, under pressure from the centre and from the chairman of the finance committee, may produce a paper on where an extra £1 million can be found or saved. One of the options could be that allotment land that had been running down should be run down completely and sold, with the money perhaps being reinvested in other land.

Is it not more tempting than that? In order to make sure that the community gets the maximum amount of money from the disposal of any land and in order to please the Secretary of State as much as possible, will not a council seek advice on the maximum planning gain and population density that could be achieved from that land? Has my hon. Friend noticed that there are many councillors, particularly from planning, estate agency and other professions, who are so public spirited that they give up their time to serve on councils where they can give such useful advice?

My hon. Friend has made an interesting point. I am sure that before disposing of land a council will take soundings about the likely alternative use, the zoning of the land and whether it could be rezoned for industry or housing. It may even be worth more as public open space than as allotment land.

The allotment movement knows that when the Government and a local authority are of a like mind and an opportunity to dispose of land is presented, consent from the Secretary of State is almost

Division No. 386]

AYES

[7.26 pm
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGrant, John (Islington C)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Grimond, Rt Hon J.Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Beith, A. J.Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHarrison, Rt Hon WalterSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Bray, Dr JeremyHattersley, Rt Hon RoySkinner, Dennis
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Haynes, FrankSoley, Clive
Campbell-Savours, DaleHeffer, Eric S.Spearing, Nigel
Cartwright, JohnHomewood, WilliamSpriggs, Leslie
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Howells, GeraintSteel, Rt Hon David
Crowther, J. S.Johnson, Walter (Derby South)Stoddart, David
Cunliffe, LawrenceKerr, RussellStott, Roger
Davidson, ArthurLamborn, HarryStrang, Gavin
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Leighton, RonaldStraw, Jack
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Litherland, RobertSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)McCartney, HughThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Dixon, DonaldMaclennan, RobertWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Dormand, JackMarks, KennethWelsh, Michael
Douglas, DickMitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)Wigley, Dafydd
Douglas-Mann, BruceNewens, StanleyWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethOakes, Rt Hon GordonWinnick, David
Eastham, KenO'Neill, MartinYoung, David (Bolton East)
Evans, John (Newton)Park, George
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelPenhaligon, DavidTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foster, DerekPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)Mr. Joseph Dean and Mr. George Morton.
Freud, ClementPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Graham, TedRace, Reg

NOES

Alexander, RichardColvin, MichaelHawksley, Warren
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Cranborne, ViscountHeddle, John
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Crouch, DavidHenderson, Barry
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyDorrell, StephenHogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)
Bell, Sir Ronalddu Cann, Rt Hon EdwardHooson, Tom
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Hordern, Peter
Berry, Hon AnthonyEggar, TimothyHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Best, KeithElliott, Sir WilliamHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Biggs-Davison, JohnEyre, ReginaldJohnson Smith, Geoffrey
Blackburn, JohnFairgrieve, RussellJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Body, RichardFaith, Mrs SheilaKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Farr, JohnKing, Rt Hon Tom
Brinton, TimFenner, Mrs PeggyLamont, Norman
Brooke, Hon PeterFinsberg, GeoffreyLawson, Nigel
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesLee, John
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnForman, NigelLe Merchant, Spencer
Bryan, Sir PaulFox, MarcusLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Budgen, NickGarel-Jones, TristanLester, Jim (Beeston)
Cadbury, JocelynGorst, JohnLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Chapman, SydneyGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Lyell, Nicholas
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Hampson, Dr KeithMacfarlane, Neil
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Haselhurst, AlanMacGregor, John

academic. If the Secretary of State is anxious to ensure that a local council is enabled to raise money, he will approve the disposal of the land and the use of the revenue for other purposes.

We are sorry that the opportunity of delay for perhaps 18 months that is contained in the amendments to enable the best parts of the Thorpe report to be given legislative flesh has not been taken. The Minister has given a negative response to the House and to the allotment movement. In the best interests of allotmenteers and, in so many ways, the country, we have no alternative but to press our amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment b e made—

The House divided: Ayes 73, Noes 129.

McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Percival, Sir IanThomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Major, JohnPrice, David (Eastleigh)Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Marlow, TonyRaison, TimothyTownend, John (Bridlington)
Mather, CarolRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Maude, Rt Hon AngusRenton, TimViggers, Peter
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinRhys Williams, Sir BrandonWaddington, David
Mellor, DavidRippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyWakeham, John
Moate, RogerRossi, HughWalker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)
Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Sainsbury, Hon TimothyWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon NormanWaller, Gary
Murphy, ChristopherShelton, William (Streatham)Ward, John
Needham, RichardSpeed, KeithWarren, Kenneth
Nelson, AnthonySpeller, TonyWatson, John
Neubert, MichaelSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Newton, TonySquire, RobinWheeler, John
Normanton, TomStanbrook, IvorWhitney, Raymond
Onslow, CranleyStanley, JohnWinterton, Nicholas
Page, Rt Hon Sir R. GrahamStevens, Martin
Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Parris, MatthewStradling Thomas, J.Mr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. John Cope.
Patten, John (Oxford)Tebbit, Norman
Pawsey, James

Question accordingly negatived.