HC Deb 31 July 1834 vol 25 cc787-93

Mr. Estcourt moved, that the Common Fields' Enclosure Bill be read a second time.

Major Beauclerk

rose for the purpose of moving, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He did not oppose the Bill merely because his constituents would be affected by it, but because it went to deprive the poorer classes of society of that healthful recreation and innocent enjoyment which were obtained by having free access to unenclosed common lands. It was not only the people who possessed the power to turn their cows, or their pigs, or horses, on commons to obtain pasture, who were injured by these enclosures, but the whole population; for they circumscribed the limits in which the people could now enjoy themselves by perambulating the open commons without trespass. It was said, that the neighbourhoods of large towns would not be affected by this Bill; but he should always oppose the principle of making partial laws, of one law for large towns, and another law for the country. Both in a moral and political point of view, it was of the greatest importance that the poorer classes should have every inducement to healthful recreation, inasmuch as the more the House conduced to their amusements, the more likely they would be to keep out of the public-house.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

seconded the Amendment, regarding the present Bill only as part of a system which was pursued by wealthy proprietors with regard to enclosing the lands which afforded enjoyment or advantage to the poor; and, although it was contended that this was merely a Bill for the enclosure of common fields, and that commons would not be affected by it, he must take leave to say he was of a very different opinion. It had been said, that one general Bill should be passed for the purpose of enabling lands to be enclosed without the expense of a separate Act of Parliament in each particular case. He would always oppose such a principle, as he did in a Committee where it was countenanced, contending that every case of enclosure should stand upon its own particular merits, as he was willing to admit that cases might arise in which it was for the benefit of all parties that the lands should be enclosed. He hoped the House would not entertain a Bill of this description, introduced at so late a period of the Session.

Mr. Hawes

said, he had presented a petition from the inhabitants residing on and about the commons of Wandsworth, Battersea, Wimbledon, and other places, against this Bill; but the hon. member for the University having consented to the introduction of a clause he was about to propose, by which a circuit of ten miles round the metropolis and other towns containing a specified number of inhabitants would be exempted from the operation of the measure, he should not oppose the Bill going into Committee.

Mr. Tooke

protested against the rights of the people of England being compromised because the constituents of the hon. member for Lambeth were satisfied. The question involved in the Bill, as to whether common lands would be affected, was certainly one of very great nicety, and, to say the least of it, trenched very much on common rights. He should, however, object to the Bill, on the sole ground of its introduction at so late a period of the Session.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

objected not only to the period at which the Bill was introduced, but to the principle it involved. Within his Parliamentary recollection two Bills had been introduced for the purpose of enclosing Hampstead-heath and Wandsworth-common; and the strong opposition which was raised against them showed it was necessary to make every Enclosure Bill depend upon its individual merits. He thought a Bill of such vast importance, affecting the rights of the whole people of England, should not be hastily agreed to. It was useless, in his opinion, to pass a clause exempting the neighbourhood of large towns from the operation of the Bill, because, in many instances, places that were now small and came within the provisions of the Bill would, in the course of time, be as large as many of the places excepted. Conceiving the Bill to be very injurious to the people of England generally, he should vote with the hon. and gallant member for Surrey.

Sir Henry Willoughby

had nothing to do with the Bill now before the House, but he begged to observe, with regard to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, that he had entirely mistaken the object of the Bill: he had confounded common fields with Commons, therefore his objections to the Bill entirely failed, the Bill only relating to small tracts of land held by individuals in common fields. It applied to no common or common right in England, but those great tracts of land held in small strips in different parts of the country; and the object of the Bill was, to give the proprietors the power to enclose them without the expense of a special application to Parliament. This, he apprehended, had nothing whatever to do with commons or common rights.

Mr. Estcourt

wished to say a few words in explanation of the Bill, which had been totally misunderstood. If he thought it would have the effect pronounced by the right hon. member for Kirkcudbright, of circumscribing the healthful recreation of the poor, or of trenching in any degree upon common rights, he would consent immediately to abandon it. The real object of the Bill was, to confer the benefit of enclosing common fields in agriculture, without subjecting the owners of them, in every case, to the immense expense of passing a Bill in Parliament. So far from being desirous to affect the commons resorted to by the public for the purposes of recreation, he had himself opposed the attempts that had been made, at various times, to inclose Hampstead-heath. The Bill would tend very much to the improvement of agriculture; for it was in vain to suppose, that small tracts of land of two or three acres would ever be im- proved, if the expense of enclosure was not diminished. It was impossible any Court of Law could place such a construction on the Bill, as to apply it to common rights or common lands. An objection had been taken to the period of the Session at which the Bill was introduced. The order for the second reading appeared on the books on the 7th of July, and he had only consented to postpone it at the request of hon. Members who entertained objections to the measure; it was, therefore, very unfair for them now to oppose the Bill on that ground. He was aware of the great objection to enclosing lands in the neighbourhood of large towns, and was, therefore, willing to accept the proposition of the hon. member for Lambeth. He had no great taste for Enclosure Bills, but he would declare that, unless some general measure of this description for the enclosure of lands was introduced, it would be hopeless to expect any amelioration of the lands in agricultural districts.

Mr. Blamire

supported the Bill, being of opinion that the proviso which had been introduced by the hon. member for the University of Oxford would obviate every objection to the Bill. There were, however, many difficulties to the details of the measure, such as where there was a right of severalty to the tillage, and where there was a periodical right to the herbage on common fields. He did not think such rights should be taken away without due consideration.

Mr. Childers

said, that every objection which had been taken to the Bill might be discussed in Committee. Representing an agricultural district where there were large tracts of land which would derive great benefit from the measure, he gave it his cordial support. There were many small tracts of lands, such as those described, and many labourers residing on them without the means of employment, who would be afforded the opportunity to exercise their labour if the lands were enclosed.

Mr. Potter

said, though the clause of the hon. member for Lambeth confined the operation of the Bill to a limit ten miles distant from large towns, it must not be forgotten that there were many large towns in the north of England, containing a population of 10,000 or 12,000, that a few years ago did not contain as many as 1,000. If, therefore, this Bill were to pass, even with the clause in favour of large towns, the enjoyment of the poor would be curtailed by enclosing the neighbourhood of small places that might ultimately become populous. He rejoiced to see a disposition in that House to reject measures that infringed on the rights of the lower orders, and felt much pleasure in the recollection that three Enclosure Bills had been thrown out of the House during the present Session, because they tended to inflict a serious injury on the defenceless poor.

Mr. Fysche Palmer

considered it a great omission in the Bill that no drainage clause had been introduced. He would take, for example, the large fields between Reading and Abingdon, and ask how it would be possible to get rid of the water which lay upon them at certain seasons of the year, unless a drainage clause was passed, by which it might be carried into the river?

Mr. Estcourt

said, he had no objection to the introduction of any proviso to remedy the difficulty, morely as a cautionary clause.

Colonel Williams

considered no principle more dangerous than that of giving power to great landowners to enclose lands at the expense of the poor. He considered the labour of the poor man as much his property as the lands of any wealthy proprietor, and that it was the duty of that House not to suffer any measure to pass that would have the effect of discouraging that labour.

Lord Sandon

said, the object of the Bill was to afford the means of employment to the poor by the enclosure of lands. The Bill did not interfere with the rights of the poor, nor was it a question of common, but of common fields belonging to different proprietors, and distinct from each other.

Mr. Hume

said, a great difference of opinion seemed to prevail with reference to the real objects of the Bill; but, after the recommendation of the Committee of last year relative to public walks, he thought the House should be very cautious how it gave its sanction to any general Enclosure Bill that might tend to interrupt its operation. No person could pass Hampstead, Camberwell, or Wandsworth, on a Sunday, and see the vast numbers of persons who enjoyed innocent recreations on the commons, without admitting the great importance of a measure to prevent even the possibility of their ever becoming enclosed. He regretted to see, in many parts of the country, that such encroachments had been made upon the enjoyments of the poor by the enclosure of common lands, for they had now scarcely any opportunity afforded them in their intervals of work to enjoy a breath of fresh air. If an arrangement were made, that the suggestions of the Committee of last year would not be obstructed, he would give his support to the Bill, on the ground that it would facilitate the improvement of agriculture, and increase agricultural labour.

Mr. John Smith

did not agree with the noble Lord, that these enclosures afforded the means of employment to agricultural labourers, as he knew many cases in which it had produced a contrary effect.

Mr. Tower

having been instrumental in the passing of several Enclosure Bills, and having witnessed the beneficial effects of them in the agricultural districts, bore his testimony to the great utility of a measure of this description. By the increase of enclosures the employment of the poor was increased, and consequently their comforts. The Bill was not a perfect measure, but its faults might be remedied in Committee.

Mr. Aglionby

considered that the Bill applied only to those commons where the right was possessed in severalty, and as it did not sanction the enclosure of commons or tend to circumscribe the rights of the poor, he should give it his support.

Major Beauclerk

said, what had taken place that morning satisfied his mind that there was no desire to infringe on the enjoyments of the poor, and wishing not to throw impediments in the way of the improvement of agriculture, he would not press his Amendment.

Mr. Wilks

protested against going into Committee at all. Notwithstanding what lawyers might have said of the Bill, he contended that it contained many most objectionable provisions, and it was so worded as to render it very difficult to make any amelioration in the Committee. Though the Bill was ostensibly for the purpose of enclosing common fields, there were many periodical rights, besides the right of way, that would be entirely destroyed by it. He objected to the introduction of so important a Bill at this period of the Session, and would vote against its proceeding any further.

The House divided on the original Motion—Ayes 39; Noes 27: Majority 12.

Bill read a second time.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Pelham, Hn. C. A. W.
Barnard, G. Phillips, C. M.
Blamire, W. Ross, Charles
Calvert, N. Sandon, Lord
Cockerell, Sir C. Scrope, P.
Crawford, W. Shawe, R. N.
Crompton, S. Shepherd, T.
Davies, Colonel Sinclair, G.
Dillwyn, L. W. Stewart, R.
Dundas, Captain Talbot, J.
Evans, G. Torrens, Colonel
Finch, G. Tower, C. T.
Hawes, B. Trowbridge, Sir T.
Hoskins, K. Ward, H. G.
Trion, S. Wedgwood, J.
Lefroy, Sergeant Whitmore, W. W.
Lowther, Colonel Willoughby, Sir H.
Macleod, R.
Marsland, T. TELLERS.
Morrison, J. Childers, J. W.
Palmer, F. Estcourt, T. G.
List of the NOES.
Attwood, T. Ruthven, E. S.
Baines, E. Ruthven, E.
Blake, M. Smith, J.
Brotherton, J. Sullivan, R.
Buckingham, J. S. Tancred, H. W.
Divett, E. Tooke, W.
Hodges, T. L. Turner, W.
Howard, P. H. Walker, C. A.
Langdale, Hon. C. Walter, J.
Lowther, Lord Wilks, J.
North, F. Williams, Colonel
Oswald, R. A. Yelverton, W. H.
O'Connell, Morgan TELLERS.
O'Dwyer, A. C. Beauclerk, Major
Potter, R. Hughes, W. H.
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