ACQUISITION OF LAND (ALLOTMENTS) BILL, 1925—SECOND STAGE.

I move the Second Reading of this Bill. The object of bringing this Bill in at the present time is, I should say, mainly to meet an undertaking given to Deputy Johnson before the Recess. The view of the Government on this question of allotments has all along been sympathetic, but having regard to the fact that, judging by the position here in Dublin, at all events, which is the only area likely to be affected to any considerable extent by the measure in question, the allotments movement is not on the up grade—if anything, it is going down at the present time—the Government did not feel justified in giving priority to a measure of this kind at a time when the Dáil was very hard pressed with legislation. It did not feel justified in giving priority to such a measure over Bills, the need and demand for which appeared to be much more urgent. Deputy Johnson brought the matter to a head during the last session of the Dáil by introducing a Bill himself. He refused to withdraw that Bill until he had got a very explicit undertaking that the Government would introduce a similar measure on the first opportunity that presented itself. In his Second Reading statement, in bringing forward that measure, Deputy Johnson made a case for the general principles of his Bill which, I think, met with practically the unanimous approval of the Dáil.

But they voted it down with your help.

This measure is intended to embody the main principles of the Bill introduced by Deputy Johnson with certain modifications, such as the exigencies of drafting and so as to safeguard the interests of all the parties concerned in the matter. The position with regard to allotments at the present time is that under the Cultivation of Land (Allotments) Act, 1917, urban local authorities have power to acquire land for allotments by agreement. During the war they had also certain compulsory powers, but these powers have now lapsed, and the view of present and prospective allotment holders is that local authorities should have compulsory powers. This Bill is an attempt to meet that desire. The Bill does not go so far as Deputy Johnson's measure in making it obligatory on local authorities to provide allotments. The Bill enables local authorities, first of all, to provide land by agreement, and where they fail to get land by agreement, then the compulsory clause comes into operation. The local authorities are enabled, under the Bill, to acquire land by agreement when they are satisfied that a demand for such land exists, and in order to test whether such a demand reallybona fide exists, it is necessary that they be satisfied, or be of the opinion, that they will be able to get sufficient rent for the allotments to cover the cost of providing them, because there is no question of providing any of the funds out of the rates. If the local authority is not able to acquire suitable land within its own area, then it can go outside, but it can only acquire land outside its own area with the consent of the local authority in question.

When the local authority is in a position to acquire land it draws up a scheme stating the work to be carried out, the rent to be charged, and other material facts, and these are submitted to the Ministry which can approve of the scheme with or without alterations. When the scheme is approved it becomes binding on the local authorities. It can only remain in operation for five years, as it is not considered advisable that a local authority should be committed to acquiring a fee simple interest in land the value of which is likely to fluctuate considerably. If, after making reasonable efforts to get the land by agreement, the local authority does not succeed, then it can acquire land compulsorily under the same procedure as under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts and as the Land Commission fixes the price of the land acquired under the Labourers Acts.

There are certain classes of land excluded from this particular provision. Any land which forms part of a demesne, garden or pleasure ground, or which "forms part of the home farm attached to and usually occupied with a mansion or is otherwise necessary for the amenity or convenience of a dwelling-house," or any land held by a local authority or other incorporated body for the purposes of any railway, tramway, dock, canal, water or other public undertaking, or land which is the site of an ancient monument or other object of archæological interest, is excluded from this particular provision. It is also provided that, in acquiring land, the local authority is to have due regard to the fact that it should not acquire an undue proportion of land from any one owner, and also that it should not acquire land in such a way as would be likely to throw any large number of men out of employment. When the land has been acquired a scheme is then drawn up and submitted to the Minister, but in a case where it is acquired by agreement he sanctions it in the ordinary way.

A scheme may be withdrawn within six weeks after the price is fixed by the Land Commission if the local authority is of the opinion that the land cannot be let at a proper rent, but due notice of the intention has to be given to all the parties interested. In other cases, the immediate landlord can resume his land if he can show that he requires it: if he can make out abona fide case that he requires the land for housing, mining, or any industrial purpose apart from agriculture. Powers are given to inspectors to visit land, and on showing written authority, if anyone interferes with them in carrying out their duty, they are liable to a penalty not exceeding £5. The deeds in connection with the provision of allotments are free from the payment of stamp duty. These are, generally, the main provisions of the Bill. As I said at the opening, in this Bill we are going as far as we consider practicable to meet the measure introduced last Session by Deputy Johnson. I think that the House has already expressed its agreement with the general provisions of the Bill.

I think the Minister is very far astray in his view of the position of the House in this matter. The Minister was good enough to say, in regard to the Bill introduced by me some time ago, that the House, during the discussion of it, expressed its agreement with the general principles embodied in that Bill. Then we were discussing a Second Reading as we are now discussing a Second Reading. That is to say, the Minister is asking the House to agree with the general principles embodied in a Bill respecting the acquisition of land for allotments, but at the instigation of the Minister in respect to my Bill—so far from it being true, as the Minister now says, that the House has already declared itself in favour of the principle —the House refused to accept the principle of my Bill and voted against the Second Reading. So that I am afraid the Minister has not quite understood the position regarding the last Bill or this Bill or his own action in respect to the same. The key to this Bill may be found in the first two or three sentences of the Minister's speech. He said that it had been brought in mainly to fulfil an undertaking given to me when my Bill was under discussion, and I think that is true. He has brought it in mainly to fulfil that undertaking, but he has no heart in it: he does not believe in it, and he is like the Minister for Education in regard to a compulsory attendance Bill—he does not believe in it. He is introducing it to fulfil certain demands and certain undertakings, but he is not going to put any steam into the scheme of the allotment movement. The whole frame of this Bill, while it goes a little way, suggests that the Department is careless, and as a matter of fact has no heart in the matter, and while it will give local authorities compulsory powers to acquire land in certain circumstances, it is not going to go out of its way to encourage local authorities to do this thing, and it is not going to put them in the position of urging or assisting this movement for the compulsory acquisition of allotments and tillage gardens by town-dwellers. If a town council under this Bill is keen and eager, then it may be able to persuade the Ministry that no great harm is being done, but the Ministry at any rate is not going to give any assistance to urge councils to push forward the allotment movement. The defects of the Bill may be said, mainly, to consist of omissions. A Bill carrying out the general policy of the Ministry is chary of giving powers when a local authority endeavours to exercise any powers, and is going to retain as tight a hold as possible, and to erect all safeguards and all possible obstructions against a local authority carrying out its powers.

In the Bill we proposed we had regard to a very general demand in small towns and country districts from labourers for land for the grazing of cows and goats. We inserted a provision in that Bill for grazing plots to be held by groups which would provide grass for cows, grass for goats, and so on. This Bill contains no such provision. It rigorously rules out any provision of the allotments movement to cover cow parks. We also find that there is no direct encouragement of allotments in the way we suggested, ensuring that the people actually concerned in the movement will co-operate with the local council, by taking part in the direction and management of the holdings. That was a provision which I considered of great value and one which was recommended by all the allotments associations both in Ireland and Great Britain, and, I think I am right in saying, was approved of by the very competent commission of inquiry that discussed this matter in respect to Scotland. It would have been evidence of a real interest on the part of the Ministry if they had adopted a provision of that kind, such as was inserted in the Bill we introduced. I think restrictions regarding the acquisition of land outside the jurisdiction of the council are such as would enable a county council, for instance, to frustrate the growth of the allotments movement amongst dwellers in a town. It is true, of course, that compulsory powers may be sought. We all know that the obtaining of compulsory powers in a matter of this kind means adding greatly to the expense and trouble, by making easy the placing of obstacles in the way of the growth and development of this movement, especially when the Bill provides that all the legal expenses must be borne by the allotments holders through the rents to be charged. That, I think, is a defect which I am sorry the Minister has seen fit to insert in the Bill. I also think that the provision of a five years' limit is unnecessarily short, and that, at any rate, ten years could be readily conceded without causing anyone any trouble or doing anyone any harm.

So far as it goes, the Bill is acceptable. It is very short of what is wanted to meet the needs of this movement. Perhaps even more important is the evidence of lack of enthusiasm and real interest in this matter on the part of the Ministry. They say there is no sign of the movement growing. I think I have proved—I could have added much in the way of evidence if it was required—that so far as the City of Dublin and district were concerned, the movement had declined—by no means had it failed—because of the state of the law and the obstruction involved by the re-acquisition of the land by the former owners and the lapsing of powers under the Defence of the Realm Act. Even if it were true that there is no evidence of any great force behind this movement in the country, I submit that it is a movement that would be worthy of positive encouragement by the Ministry instead of the careless lack of interest that is shown by the Minister's speech, and the Bill itself. The movement has within it very commendable characteristics and is capable of assisting very many men in bad times to feed their children. One would have thought that that itself would lead the Ministry to take up the work with some enthusiasm instead of introducing a Bill of this kind mainly to meet an undertaking given to myself by the Minister. We must be thankful for small mercies and I am not going to oppose the Second Reading. I hope it will be possible to amend and extend its provisions before the Bill passes through the Oireachtas.

Deputy Johnson has thanked me for the Bill, even though he considers it a small mercy. Naturally I did not expect him to enthuse very much, but I thought he could give us credit at least for the alacrity with which we met his wishes, as expressed before the Recess.

You told us it was in draft two years ago.

So it was. The main points touched on by Deputy Johnson as being left out of the measure dealt with the provision of common pasturage. I am not at all in favour of the idea of having common pasturage near our cities and towns. Even in the country, where local authorities have powers to provide such plots, they have not been, by any means, a conspicuous success. For the most part they have been used by fairly large landowners and very seldom for the purpose for which the original Act intended them. I think five years is a very necessary and a very sensible safeguard. As I said, property, particularly in cities, has a tendency to fluctuate in value very considerably. Most of those plots consist of property which is likely, within a short time, to be used for building or for similar purposes. It would be a very serious matter for the community at large if a local authority could acquire such land for a long period. It would also be a serious matter if they had to hold on to such land at a rent which might be altogether above what might be the average rent of similar property in the district. For that reason, I think five years limitation very reasonable. But we can discuss these matters more fully on the Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for November 25th.