Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words
The powers conferred by the preceding Subsection shall be, exercisable by a council only where in the opinion of the council the facilities for the purchase or hire of the articles therein referred to from a society on a co-operative basis are inadequate.
This very nearly follows the wording of an Amendment in the name of some hon. Members, including myself, but it is slightly different. We moved it in the form of it being with the approval of the Board of Agriculture, and the Minister in charge, having considered it, has apparently preferred a rather different form, in which it would be the council itself which would decide whether the facilities offered by a society on a cooperative basis were adequate or not. I think probably we ought to accept the Amendment, but of course we find that in some cases councils are antagonistic to land being held or payment being undertaken by co-operative societies of allotment-holders, and when you come to look into it the reason is not because of any principle, but because the authorities are guided and rather led by their officials, who often have a financial interest in doing these things direct. For instance, the officials often have as a perquisite of their own the fees for making out the agreements of tenancy with the allotment-holders, and, of course, those fees have to be surrendered if the land is let to an allotment society which docs the reletting of the land itself. Similarly,1 can imagine an official who saw a chance of an extra £10 in salary by running this scheme taking the line that it would be better to do it direct with the council than with the co-operative society. But with all its disadvantages I think the Minister proposes this Amendment To meet the point of view that where there is an adequate society the work should be done by the society, and if he can say that they will watch the exercise of these powers carefully, to see that councils do not unreasonably withhold powers from co-operative societies, I think we ought to accept the Amendment.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I can assure my right hon. Friend that that is our intention. This will be a statutory duty placed upon councils that in all cases where they are satisfied that adequate facilities are provided by co-operative societies they are to make use of them, and we shall certainly impress upon them that that is their duty. Of course, if the council does not do it, there are means, such as raising the question in this House and so on, whereby pressure can be brought to bear.
I beg to move, in Subsection (3), to leave out the words "forty shillings," and to insert instead thereof the words "five pounds.''
The allotment-holders of the country have suffered a great deal from the negligence of people who have allowed animals to stray on their allotments. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Sir A. Warren) knows of a case, about which I have no doubt he can tell the House, where, at Edmonton, in a single night £40 worth of damage was done to allotments, and at Shrewsbury the other night allotments were damaged to the amount of £10; and, therefore, I feel that the Government are helping us in this matter.
I was very hopeful that the Government would have seen their way clear to accept the £10, because I am sure it is in the mind and in the heart of this House to protect the allotment-holders. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) referred to the constituency which I have the honour and privilege to represent, where very considerable damage has been done on more than one occasion. When the House remembers that many of these allotments are so situated, and the circumstances under which they are held are such that in cases they cannot be properly fenced in, and that they are open and more or less subject to the will and pleasure of persons who have no interest in allotments, and who do not take the reasonable precautions to prevent either their animals or their children straying upon the allotments, I think the House will desire to protect those allotment-holders from wanton damage and destruction. Having regard to the importance of the work that is performed by allotment-holders, I venture to regard them in many respects as public benefactors who assisted in a very grave crisis, and I am very hopeful that the circumstances of the country will be such as to allow of allotments going on for all time. Therefore, I think these men, and women too, who have done such excellent service should be protected to the very full. I should have been much more delighted had the Government been prepared to' accept the Amendment of £10, because I could recapitulate to this House cases in which these men—none of them men with any considerable means, who have put their little into their allotment, coupled with their vigour and labour—have had very serious damage done to their allotments, but as the Government have met us so far, I suppose we must be content.
I have every sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. The reason I say £5is that I want to keep some measure of perspective with regard to other fines and other offences, and I think if the House allowed £10 it would be going out of perspective, and I think that £5 would meet the case.
I had an Amendment down with regard to this matter, and you have just ruled it out of order, but I do wish to impress upon the House the great seriousness of this question of damage. I am very sorry that the Government have not put in a provision that a person who, without authority, trespasses on an allotment should be fined, without it being necessary—
I quite agree with the learned Solicitor-General about putting in a large penalty, having regard to other penalties prescribed in other cases. But very often people who pilfer and —pilfer extensively—from allotments are bands of gipsies, and they are generally pretty well able to pay when they are caught, but the difficulty is to find them. Therefore, a very strong reason exists for making this a substantial penalty if it can be done.