Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I beg to move to leave out the words
The powers conferred upon the Ministry of Agriculture by Sub-section (a)
and to insert instead thereof the words
If it appears to the Minister, in relation to the London County Council or the council of any county borough or Metropolitan borough, after holding a local inquiry at which the council, or such other persons as the person holding the inquiry, may, in his discretion, think fit to allow, shall be permitted to appear and be heard, that the council have failed to satisfy to the extent to which it is reasonably practicable, having regard to the provisions of the Allotments Acts, the demand for allotment gardens to he provided by the council the Minister may, by order, transfer to the Small Holdings Commissioners all or any of the powers of the council relating to the provision of allotment gardens, and the provisions.
This is an Amendment which I accepted in Committee, subject to the possibility that it might have to be redrafted. This has been done, and I move it now in a new form.
It appears to me, as the representative of a part of the country where there are many large towns, that this is a most unheard-of and outrageous attack upon the local authorities of this country. What is the use of having a London County Council and great municipalities like Liverpool and Manchester, if the Minister of Agriculture may, if certain things happen which in his opinion ought not to happen, then he may send down an inspector to hold an inquiry at which the local authority will not be allowed even to appear if the inspector thinks that they should not appear. Is it contended that the Corporation of Liverpool and the London County Council are not fit to deal with the question of allotments in their own area? The London County Council represents over 6,000,000 of people, and it is elected on a democratic basis, and are they not to be allowed to function an Act which is one of quite secondary importance. That a department in Whitehall should be allowed to override such bodies is a most extraordinary thing.
Had I not risen on this occasion, this Amendment would have gone through without a word of protest. [HON.] MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am glad to hear that that is the case. On this matter I think I am voicing the opinion of the majority of the electors when I say that such drastic power ought not to be given to officials at Whitehall. Why should local authorities have their local autonomy taken away from them? Local authorities are getting very tired of this perpetual direction from Whitehall, and of having grave responsibilities put upon them which they do not want. When something is done which does not please the Minister in London, an inspector may be sent clown to tell the local authority what they are to do and not to do, and in this case they cannot even appear at the inquiry if the inspector does not wish them to appear.
What is the object of this Amendment? Surely if the London County Council and other great municipalities are not able to decide what allotments and facilities are needed; and what should be the proper amount of land to be provided for the inhabitants the sooner you do away with local government altogether, and run these affairs entirely from Whitehall, the better. What is the use of having corporations with mayors and aldermen? What is the use of having such a magnificent building as the County Hall on the other side of the river, on which £4,000,000 has been spent; what is the use of having a Lord Mayor if these things are to be settled at Whitehall? This proposal seems to be centralisation run mad. There has been a tendency for some time in what I may call the general government of the country towards decentralisation. We have now Home Rule in two parts of Ireland, and we have demands for the same thing from Wales and Scotland, and the whole tendency is in the direcion of decentralisation. That may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing, but at any rate it seems to commend itself to the great majority of Members of this House.
Are we now to go in exactly the opposite direction, and month by month and year by year whittle away the authority of our local governing bodies. You cannot have it both ways. One or the other must be wrong, and I am perfectly sure that in this case we shall be absolutely wrong if we do anything to fetter the discretion of these big boroughs and big county authorities. Cannot we trust such bodies as the London County Council and the Corporations of Manchester, Liverpool, and Bristol to do the right thing by their own people? If we are going to send to these places an inspector to poke his finger into local affairs, and listen to every petty local complaint made out of spite, then I think we shall be doing a great injustice to municipal life in this country which, after all, has served the country very well indeed, and has been on the whole remarkably free from corruption, and which we should do everything in our power to promote.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
Will my hon. and gallant Friend kindly allow me to proceed? The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that we are introducing some destructive principle which has never been applied to local government before. He has entirely misrepresented what it is proposed to do. What are the facts? Ever since 1907, when the Allotments Acts were extended—and the next year they were consolidated—this power of default has been exercised in one case, and in one case only, and that was where a local authority—and we trust them, and trust them rightly in nearly every single case—had entirely failed to provide allotments so far as was practicable. That is all that is provided by this Clause. It is not interfering with the way in which they do it; and it is not whether they do it in the way the Ministry like. If my hon. and gallant Friend will only read the Clause, he will see that the words are
has failed to satisfy to the extent which is reasonably practicable the demand for allotments.
That has been the law with regard to every county council, every urban district council, and every borough council which is not a county borough. But for some unexplained reason—I believe it was an oversight—these powers of default, which are used only in the last instance where there has been a complete failure to carry out the law, were not given in the
case of the London County Council and of the county boroughs. We have therefore this extraordinary anomalous position, that a great county council like that of the West Riding of Yorkshire or the Lancashire County Council can be defaulted, if necessary—they have not been, and I do not think that they are ever likely to be—and a borough in either of those counties, with a much smaller population, like Bolton, cannot be defaulted. I am the very last person to wish to interfere with local government. On the contrary, I recognise that in the matter of allotments, and most other things, these great authorities do their work magnificently, but there must always reside in the central authority the power to act in those cases where a local authority lamentably fails, and there have been some such cases. It is quite inconsistent—and it is an inconsistency which we never could explain—that we should have these powers of default in the ease of the great county councils and not in the case of county boroughs. It is merely to remove this inconsistency that this Clause was moved in Committee, and that I propose to amend it and put into proper phraseology this afternoon. The Clause went through in Committee without hardly any discussion. It was apparent to everybody that if the powers of default existed at all you could not defend this omission. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will recognise that I am not introducing any new principle. We do not want, and we do not intend, to interfere, except where there is a complete failure to carry out the intention of Parliament.
I wish to join in the protest against the principle which is expressed in Clause 19 and extended by this Amendment. I venture to think that my right hon. Friend is wrong in saying that the London County Council was omitted from the earlier Statute by oversight. I suggest that it was deliberately omitted, because it was then recognized—as it ought to be recognised now—that no need existed for giving this power to a Minister of State over and above the power possessed by that great elected authority. I have some little experience, though not much, in connection with this matter, as I was the first chairman—I think the only chairman—of the Allotments and Small Holdings Committee of the London County Council, and it surely is known to everybody that every inch of land within the London County area which can be used for allotments is already used. During the war we had to go so far as to plough up the public parks in order to find some few plots of land for allotment purposes. I regard this insertion of the London County Council as nothing less than an insult to a popularly-elected body, quite as well capable of managing this small affair as any Minister of State, and I object altogether to the patronising terms of the Clause. There shall be an inquiry, and then the person holding the inquiry may, "if he thinks fit, permit the London County Council" to come and be heard. Was ever language more insulting than that? I should have said that if an inquiry be necessary the London County Council has an inherent right of coming to state their case, and should not merely be "permitted" by some official appointed by the Minister to hold the inquiry.
The London County Council claim that they have done everything that is possible in the direction of providing allotments. No Ministry can do more than has already been done. Earlier statutes regarded it as quite unnecessary to give this power of default, because there can be no default in the London County Council, and I regard it as a great insult to the authority like that of London to put this power in the hands of the Minister. Of course, if the Commissioners act in default, the cost of that action falls upon the rates, and, in effect, the Commissioners become a rating authority over the heads of the elected rating members. That is altogether wrong in principle. It confers upon the Ministry, acting through a Commissioner, the power to impose a rate, and in principle I regard that as bad. We shall never get our best men and women to take part in municipal life if they realise that first by one Act and then by another their decision may be overridden by a Commissioner appointed by a Ministry. The only way of really developing municipal life in this country is to endow the popularly-elected Members with full powers and to trust them to obey the wishes of the electors.
I know very well the trouble we had over the small holdings which is referred to in Clause 19. The London County Council was made the authority for small holdings in the London county area. We searched within 150 miles of London and scoured the country to try to satisfy the Ministry that we could not establish any small holdings. In the end, when we discovered one and submitted it to them they said that it was no good and could never be made to pay, and we were straightaway absolved from any further action. I should be sorry to estimate the expense to which London was put by all those investigations. The land valuer, the architect, and nearly every department of the outside work of the council were brought into operation to satisfy the whim of the Ministry of Agriculture, who somehow or other seemed to think that somewhere or another within the County of London, covered as it is with houses, we could find space for small holdings. I believe every corner of land which has not been claimed by the builder is already being worked by allotment holders, and, therefore, I protest against the acceptance of this principle which I believe is subversive of the best interests of municipal government. It is most undesirable and should not be attempted by the Minister unless he has a clear and urgent case before him. No such case exists in regard to the County of London, and I think it is very unwise on his part, therefore, to press this argument. I hope the House will not grant the right hon. Gentleman these powers.
I am sorry I cannot put my objections in the very forcible language used by a previous speaker. I subscribe to every word my hon. Friend said, and if Parliamentary forms permitted it, I would try to express my views even more forcibly, so strongly do I feel in connection with this matter. All this only tends to weaken, if not to destroy, the principles and mainsprings of successful municipal government. The country in years to come will have to depend far more than now on successful municipal administration. The enlarged duties imposed on municipal authorities call for the services of the very best men and women the country can produce, and self-respecting men and women will not consent to serve if their decisions, supported by the electorate, are afterwards to be upset by a Commissioner appointed by the Ministry. The whole principle of free, democratic municipal government is here set against the action of bureaucracy. I believe that the people of the country would rather trust to the free and elected organisation of the municipal authority than place their affairs in the hands of a Minister of State who may appoint a Commissioner endowed with such powers as are expressed in this Amendment. If my right hon. Friend feels that he must adhere to this proposal, which I conceive to be most foolish, I would at any rate ask him to make it clear that the great county councils, whether in London or elsewhere, shall not be subject to the humiliation of having to secure the permission of a Commissioner to exercise their inherent right to appear when an inquiry is to be held.
The arguments used by hon. Members on the other side appear to me to be strangely contradictory. At the moment they are coming forward as the guardians of the liberties of local authorities. A few moments ago they were speaking of the absolute right of the railway companies to deal with allotment holders. I cannot understand how they can argue in the way they do. Reference has been made to large municipal authorities, like Manchester and Liverpool, declining to do their duty towards allotment holders. I do not think for a moment that any large municipal authority would default in this connection. As far as I understand it, the meaning of this Amendment is that in the event of a municipality like Manchester carrying out its duties, as it is doing at the moment, if any municipal authority in the near vicinity declines to do the same thing, then there will be an appeal to the Minister of Agriculture who will have to decide what shall be done in that connection. I believe an Amendment of this kind ought to be included in the Bill, because undoubtedly there are local authorities who are very much afraid of the land hunger which is growing among our people. That land hunger ought to be satisfied, and I cannot understand why hon. Members opposite should argue that the local authorities should have absolute home rule in this matter. They never did have home rule. It may be very awkward sometimes for local authorities to submit to the Ministry of Health or to the Ministry of Agriculture, but surely it is not to be said that every municipal authority is to do as it likes without any power of appeal to the State. There may some day be a change in the Government of this country and then I can imagine there will be on the local authorities landowners and people representing railway companies, who will decline to admit the rights of allotment holders. Then it will be realised that it was well worth while including this provision in this Bill.
I do not think that the latter portion of the last speech was very relevant to the matter which we all have at heart. I rather think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Accrington (Major Gray) has put his case against the Minister rather unfairly. There is no question of principle involved in this Amendment. If my hon. Friend will refer to Clause 17 he will see that the principle is there laid down. I understood my hon. Friend's speech was really a protest against the existing law and not so much against the suggestion which is being made in this particular Amendment. Does my hon. Friend really mean to suggest that if a local authority is not doing its duty, there should be no right of appeal? I know it is said that this is a matter entirely for the local people. I do not agree with that. If a local authority in an extreme case is not doing its duty in connection with allotments, there certainly ought to be a right of appeal. My hon. Friend referred to the question of local elections. But are allotment holders to wait, it may be a period of three years, for an election before they can secure a remedy for their grievances? The principle has already been adopted by Parliament and it is not a question of any insult being levelled against the London County Council. I was for many years a member of that county council. Surely it is not to be expected that the London County Council is to be treated differently from every other council in the country?
There need be no anxiety on the part of the London County Council concerning this Clause. As regards the wording, I think that if my hon. Friend looks at that part of the wording of the original Statute which is covered by the word "insult," he will find that it follows almost exactly the wording of the previous Statute. Therefore, there has been no gratuitous insult so far as we are concerned to-day. Inasmuch as the London County Council is doing its duty, as I believe it is, and inasmuch as these words follow the principle which has already been adopted by Parliament, my hon. Friend is putting his case very high indeed. I venture to say, however, that where there is a case in which a county council is not doing its duty, it is not fair to say: "Well, you must rely upon the local election; the thing must wait for three years." I venture to say that an. inquiry by a proper body, at which representatives of all parties can be heard, is necessary in an extreme case. I put it no higher, and I think that this Clause is a justifiable Clause to insert in any Act of Parliament.
I do not want to say anything on the merits, but I think it might shorten the discussion if I point out that we are all rather beating the air. The only effect, if my right hon. Friend's Amendment be negatived, would be that the Clause as unamended would stand. The point has gone by at which it would be possible to move to leave out the Clause, and as in its present form it reads all right, and can be administered all right, we should only get exactly the same thing in another form if the Amendment were withdrawn, unless the Bill were re-committed; and I would not urge the Government to do that even for the purpose of including some of my own Clauses. We are, therefore, discussing a subject which cannot really be decided in any way.
I think that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) has just said is quite possibly true, but I think that this is an occasion on which Members, especially on this side, of the House, should make a serious protest. We have already, on this Amendment, made a protest against the exercise of this kind of power by the Government, and what is the reply of the Minister? It is that this is no new thing, that in this particular case it was started in 1907. But where was the Minister in 1907? Was he distinguished by a whole-hearted support for the Measures of the Government then? We are not, and I think that on the whole the people of this country are not, at this moment, prepared to say that that tendency which has been manifest during the last 15 years is a tendency to be encouraged, especially because in the last two or three years these powers which were given to the Government before the War, and have been given during the War for the purposes of the War, have been used during the last two or three years not to force local authorities to economise, but to force them into high expenditure.
Local authorities have realised more and more that they have less and less power of control over their own expenditure, and yet this moment, when the Government says it is going to economise, is the moment when the Minister comes down and proposes a new provision to reinforce this principle; and then he says he is only extending a principle which we all agree has been used during the last few years to promote extravagance on the part, of local authorities. I would ask the Minister to refer to his colleague the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, and ask him whether he is not of that opinion. We all know that local government during the last two years has been a chaos, where the central Government in Whitehall, exposed to all the influences of pressure of various kinds, has gone to the local authorities and has said, "You must spend here and you must spend there." That is what this Clause is going to do. I am afraid that the effect of this Bill will be rather to discourage private individuals from letting their land for allotments. On the whole, the tendency of this Bill is to throw more and more on the local authorities the duty of providing land for allotments, and unless they spend enough money on them, unless they use their administrative staffs more and more to search for such land, the Minister is going to come down and say, "You are not doing your duty; we must take this over and give it to the Small Holdings Commissioners, and we must impose upon you a burden of expenditure which you are not prepared, as the elected representative of your own people, to assume for yourselves."
The only justification that the Minister brings forward is, "Well, this, after all, is only an extension of an old principle." Are we on this side of the House to be put off by that kind of argument, or are we going to stand for what, after all, was the old principle of the Tory party, at any rate, namely, the freedom of local government? The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said that he was very much surprised that we can get up and at one and the same time advocate the freedom of railway companies and also the freedom of local authorities. I am sorry. I know that the Labour party has not yet realised that the principle of democracy is freedom all round. Local authorities ought to have just as much freedom—no more and no less—as private persons and railway companies and so on. This is just an instance of the way in which we on this side of the House do stand for the freedom of local government, while hon. Gentlemen on the other side are quite unable to do so because of their are-conceptions on various points. There is no party on the municipal authorities that stands up so much as the Labour party does against the appointment of ad hoc authorities; and then they come down to this House and vote in favour of ad hoc authorities, without seeming in the least to understand that they are contradicting themselves. I wish the Minister all joy of the support—and, I think, the only support—that he is going to get for the principle of this Clause. I wish him joy of the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I sincerely hope that hon. Members on this side of the House will go into the Lobby against the Amendment.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
The Noble Lord who has just sat down was—I am sure, not intentionally—exceedingly unfair to me. There is no question whatever of my coming here and asking the House to insert a new Clause. Far from it. If my Noble Friend had known the facts, he would be aware that this was not in the original Bill. It was brought forward in Committee, and I accepted it because it did remove an anomaly. It is not usual, when a Minister accepts a Clause in Committee, to turn round and move its deletion on Report. As I say, I was not myself the author of this Clause, although, as a matter of fact, it was proposed in the Report of the Departmental Committee. Moreover, I discussed this matter with representatives of the County Councils' Association and of the Associa- tion of Municipal Corporations and Urban District Councils. They said that they had no particular objection to the Clause, because it would meet an anomaly. It was largely because I realised that no strong objection had been advanced by those who represented the local authorities that I accepted the Clause in the Standing Committee. I put it to the House that it is rather unreasonable, after all, to object to what is really only a drafting Amendment of the Clause, but if it does not meet with the approval of the House, I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment, which will, as was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland), leave the Clause exactly as it stands. That is all I can do. We have passed the point at which we can move to leave out the Clause. If it be thought that the wording of the Amendment implies anything of the nature of an insult to the county council, I can assure the House that nothing of the kind was intended, and I am willing to withdraw the Amendment and leave the Clause exactly as it was.
I should like to ask why we have been spending the last hour in Debate if this is merely a question of a drafting Amendment which makes no difference. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman move it as a drafting Amendment, in which case there would have been no opposition? [HON. MEMBERS: "He did."] If he had merely said, "This is a drafting Amendment" we should not have wasted three-quarters of an hour.
I am extremely glad to hear that that was the case. Now I understand that, although the right hon. Gentleman still believes the Amendment is a right Amendment which would make the Bill read more intelligently and lead to clearer interpretation by the lawyers and the local authorities, because pressure is brought to bear upon him by the true-blooded Noble Lords of the Tory party, he is content to let the Bill go in an imperfect condition, and leave it to the Law Courts to thrash out, at great expense to the public, what the Bill really means. That may be an enormous boon to the local authorities, but I do not think the local authorities, when they come to work the Bill without understanding it, will be very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am afraid the real fact of the matter is that he is undergoing that process of martyrdom which he has undergone very frequently in the past, and which he does not like even though he is getting accustomed to it. As a representative of true-blooded Toryism himself, he has been forced on the Committee to accept this Radical Amendment, and he has to stand up in the House and support a Radical Amendment, of which he does not approve for a moment, in the teeth of the reproaches of his brother Tories—a very sad spectacle indeed. At the same time there is no reason why we on this side of the House, who have got our Amendment carried in Committee, should now, as an act of grace to the right hon. Gentleman, consent to allow him to withdraw it in order that the Bill may go through in an imperfect condition. I do not
|Session and Chapter.||Short Title.||Extent of Repeal.|
|8 Edw. 7. c. 36.||The Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908.||Sub-section (3) of Section twenty-five.|
|Sub-section (1) of Section twenty-seven, in Section thirty the proviso in Sub-section (2), and Subsection (3) of Section forty-seven.|
believe it will be of great service to the cause of allotments in any case, but if it is to be of any service, it will be absolutely essential to reserve to the central authority the power to ginger up the few local authorities who do not do their duty in the matter of allotments. I do not think we are ever likely to see much gingering up from the Board of Agriculture as it is represented at present in the House of Commons. But the time will come when we shall have a Board of Agriculture which, like the prophet Habbukuk, will be capable de tout, and in the interests of allotment holders of a future day, when other Members will be sitting on those benches—
Further Amendment made: Leave out the words
of acting in default of certain local authorities shall extend to the London County Council, the councils of county boroughs, and to the councils of metropolitan boroughs—
and insert instead thereof the words
shall apply as if references to the Commissioners were substituted for references to the county council and with such other adaptations as may be made by the Order."—[Sir A. Boscawen.]
I wish to say, not only the formal word, which is sometimes said, but a really genuine word of thanks to the Minister for the way he has conducted the Bill. He has met very few of the points we wanted to have met, but I think he has probably gone as far as he could go, and I hope the Bill will really now be put on the Statute Book. I can best meet his convenience, and that of the House, by not in any way amplifying my remarks, but I assure him it is with a genuine spirit that, although I have been his chief opponent, I thank him for having done his best to meet us.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman and the House for the way in which they have discussed a somewhat difficult Bill in detail, and I hope it will prove of real good to the allotment holder. Before the Bill is read the Third time, I want to read the following statement:
I have it in Commission from His Majesty to signify to the House that His Majesty having been informed of the purpose of the Allotments Bill gives his consent as far as His Majesty's interests are concerned, and the House may do therein as it may think fit.
I have it also in Commission from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales that His Royal Highness having been informed of the purpose of the Bill gives his consent as far as His Royal Highness' interests are concerned, and the House may do therein as they think fit.