HC Deb 05 June 1834 vol 24 cc174-80

Mr. Shaw Lefevre brought up the Report of the Committee on this Bill: and, on the question that the Amendments be read a second time:—

Mr. Walter

said, he had thought it his duty to take the greatest pains possible to arrive at a just conclusion, and, in addition to the evidence given before the Committee, he had endeavoured to procure the best professional opinion, upon actual inspection, and the result of his inquiry was, that there was no way of compensating the poor generally for any loss of this common by any addition to the allotments of individuals. The Hon. Member entered into a variety of details as to the expense of the inclosure, as to the advantages to the persons concerned, and then proceeded. The expense would be enormous; the commissioner stated it at 2l. per acre, but, he had lately paid 4l. per acre for the same thing. He thought that, at a moderate estimate, it would amount to at least 5,000l. And out of whose pockets was this to come? Out of the pockets of those who already enjoyed the right of commonage, without any abatement, without incurring any expense whatever. What became, he would ask, of the sum so abstracted from individuals actually enjoying a free right? Did it go to improve the land? No: it went into the pockets of commissioners, surveyors, lawyers, and persons of that class, by whom absolute havoc was to be committed upon this property. The loss to be inflicted was real, substantial, and durable; and it was attempted to repair it by means artificial—he had almost said frivolous; for the right of common was a perpetual right—a right of which the poor could not disseize themselves—of which an improvident father could not rob a meritorious son. All that these people wanted was, to be left alone in the enjoyment of that which nature had brought to their doors. With regard to inclosures, there might possibly be some few points in which they had been beneficial; but experience, so far as it had hitherto gone, showed that, in one respect, they had been highly detrimental; they had tended to depress the poor, and, by depriving them of the right of commonage, had thrown them on the parish. On the decision of that morning would depend, not only the comfort of 196 families, but the conviction which the poor entertained, that their interests were as much consulted by that House as those of the most powerful Member in it. The utility of such a conviction, at a time like the present, would, he trusted, be duly appreciated. He concluded by moving, that the Amendments be read on that day six months.

Mr. Leech seconded the Amendment.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

hoped he should never live to see the day when the interests of the poor would not meet with an equal consideration from that House with those of any other class. So far from the present Bill being any infringement of the rights of the poor, the promoters of the measure had endeavoured by every means in their power to better the condition of the poor, and it was upon this ground that he gave the Bill his support. The hon. Member referred to the evidence at some length to establish his case, and concluded by expressing a hope that the House would allow the Bill to pass.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

said, never was the saying that one story was good until another was told more fully verified than in the present instance. The hon. Member referred to the evidence to prove his view. He would ask what was to be expected from a Reformed House of Commons if this Bill were suffered to pass? What was the effect of the clause? It limited the extent of the allotment of those labourers who had exercised the rights of commonage for the last twenty years, or who had possessed their cottages for thirty years. But further, it put their estate in trust, instead of giving it to them in perpetuity. Of all absurd clauses that were ever introduced into a Bill, that was the most absurd and extravagant, which, before the commissioners set out and allotted the different plots of ground to each cottager, made it necessary, that each cottager should prove that, for twenty years before the passing of this Act, he had exercised the right of common by stocking it to a certain extent, and that for thirty years he, or the party from whom he derived his right, had been in possession of a cottage, which gave him that right. The allotment was to be held by the lord of the manor, the incumbent of the parish, his curate, the churchwarden, and overseers of the poor in trust for the said several owners of such cottages as had common rights. The cottagers, however, were not to be allowed to assign their allotments without the leave of the trustees, or any five of them, given under their hand and seal, and they were not to be permitted to assign them except to other owners of cottages. Thus, it was necessary that they should obtain, as in the feudal times, leave from their liege lords to alienate. The clause further provided, that if the cottagers were absent from their cottages for more than three months, without just cause assigned, the trustees should be at liberty to enter upon their allotments for their own use and benefit. Could it be doubted for a moment that this clause would give the trustees a direct interest in obtaining as many forfeitures as they possibly could? This clause did not give the cottager a fee simple in his allotment as an equivalent for his right of common. It first limited the estate to the heirs of his body, making it an estate tail, and then provided, that if he quitted the occupation for three months, or built upon it, or let or assigned it, in either of those cases it should be forfeited to the use of the poor of the parish, and the trustees were required to take possession for that purpose. That such a Bill should be attempted to be palmed upon a Reformed House of Commons was to him surprising, for it was the most extravagant of all extravagances. He trusted the House would never consent to pass this Bill.

Colonel Conolly

thought, that the rights of the poor had been most sedulously and vigilantly attended to by the Chairman of the Committee, who had made a clear and able statement to the House. He should, therefore, give the Bill his most cordial support.

Mr. Gisborne

said, although the present Bill was strictly a private Bill, it was one of great public importance. If the opposition to this Bill should succeed, then there would be an end of all enclosures. He knew that persons who were friends to emigration had always had it thrown in their teeth that there were 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 acres of waste land in this country which ought to be put into a state of cultivation before the inhabitants of this country were sent out of the country to cultivate other lands. Having lived the greater part of his life near two commons consisting of land of the description mentioned in the Bill, and being well acquainted with commons and those who usually lived upon them, he could state from actual observation, that they lived a very vagrant sort of life, more like gipsies than regular labourers, and, in every instance which he had known, these poor creatures had been benefited by being compelled to adopt more regular habits. He was of opinion a great deal more had been done for these poor labourers than they could have expected if the present Bill had been suffered to take its ordinary course. The ground on which he should vote was, that he could not conceive a single case of inclosure that could take place throughout the kingdom if the objections urged by the opponents of this Bill should meet with the approbation of the House.

Major Beauclerk

knew, from his own experience, that many enclosures which had taken place in the counties of Surrey and Sussex had turned out anything but beneficial to the poor. Indeed, many of them to his knowledge had been destructive to the comforts, the pleasures, and the amusements of the poor. The clause read by the hon. member for Ox- ford, in his opinion, determined the question. It was calculated to bring the poor man on the parish. By this Bill, the rich man was at liberty to build upon his allotment cottages of any description he pleased; but the poor man was compelled to sacrifice his property if he made any erection upon it at all. It was clear this Bill would promote the ruin instead of the advantage of the poor man, whose rights it affected; and he felt it his duty to oppose it.

Sir Henry Hardinge

having been a member of the Committee, was desirous to offer a few observations. As a proof of the disinterestedness of the promoters of the Bill, he would inform the House, that one of the counsel against the Bill, who appeared for two commoners only, admitted, that he had no reason to complain of any want of liberality towards the poor on the part of its promoters; on the contrary, their generosity to the poor had been so much more than ordinary, that his clients were compelled to complain that they were damnified by it. Great doubts existing in the minds of the Committee with regard to what course ought to be pursued, and very conflicting testimony having been given before the Committee on both sides—indeed there was a strong party feeling on the subject—it was thought expedient, with the consent of both parties, to send down a person of known character and respectability, on whose testimony the Committee could rely. On his report, the Committee came to the decision, that the preamble was proved, that "it was advantageous to the poor of Kingsclere, that this enclosure should be made." Under these circumstances, what was the Committee to do? Every proposition made by the opponents of the Bill was assented to; ten-elevenths of the property were in favour of the Bill. Forty-three rate-payers and 286 cottagers had petitioned for this enclosure. They lived in the village, which was three miles distant from the common. They had an equal right to the common with those parties who lived upon its confines, although they were unable to make the same use of it, from the distance at which they were located from it. By a clause in the Bill, seventy-five acres in the immediate neighbourhood of the village were to be given to these commoners in exchange for the rights which they now possessed, but of which they were unable to avail them- selves. He asserted, that if the House threw out this Bill, it would be a declaration, that no enclosure should hereafter take place. He was an enemy to all enclosures of wasteland in the neighbourhood of villages; he thought the villagers ought to have the means of amusing themselves after their labour; but he considered this a different case, and should therefore give the Bill his support.

Mr. Pease

opposed the Bill. He had more than doubts as to the benefit to be derived from the enclosure of this common, for he had been informed by a witness of good authority, who had not, however, been examined before the Committee—that seventeen acres of this common had on a former occasion been enclosed by the parish, and that they had subsequently been abandoned.

Mr. Godson

had one objection to this Bill, which, in his opinion, would be fatal to it. By the clause which had been read by the hon. member for Oxford, and which, as a lawyer, he must denounce as one of the most extraordinary clauses he had ever heard of, these poor cottagers, who now possessed as good a right from possession to their cottages and to their commonage as any Member in that House had to his estate, were deprived of that right? Why should the House sanction the principle, that possession, the best legal right, should be taken away, and these parties should be put to the expense of proving their right to the very party who was opposed to them? Was there to be one law for the rich, and another law for the poor—a law for a man of 100l., and a different law for a man of 1,000l.? The principle was most unjust, and one to which he could never give his sanction.

Mr. Blackburne

had never seen such a clause introduced in any Bill. He was bound to say, that if this clause formed a part of the principle of the Bill, he could never consent to it; for it either gave to some one a right he ought not to possess, or it took away from the poor man a right which he already possessed; inasmuch as if he had exercised his right of common for twenty years, he had as much title to it as if he had exercised it for 1,000. If he was to go before a Commissioner and prove he had exercised a right of common for twenty years, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner, he had a right to have the land given to him in fee. If the poor of the parish, were willing to abandon the right they possessed in the common, he should be sorry to prevent them; but if any objection was made to it, he said it was taking away the right they possessed at law, and giving them another which was worth nothing.

The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 50; Majority 20.

The Bill put off for six months.

List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. O'Connell, M.
Baines, E. O'Connell, J.
Beauclerk, Major O'Connell, F.
Bewes, T. O'Reilly, W.
Blackburne, J. Oswald, R. A.
Brotherton, J. Parrott, J.
Buller, C. Pease, J.
Butler, Colonel Philips, M.
Cobbett, W. Potter, R.
Codrington, Sir E. Rider, T.
Collier, J. Ruthven, E. S.
Dawson, E. Ruthven, E.
Dobbin, L. Sandford, Sir D.
Faithfull, G. Scholefield, J.
Fielden, J. Sharp, General
Fielden, W. Sullivan, R.
Finn, W. F. Thicknesse, R.
Fitzsimon, C. Trelawney, Sir W. S.
Fitzsimon, N. Wason, R.
Gillon, W. D. Wigney, J. N.
Gully, J. Young, G. F.
Halliburton, Hn. D. G.
Hodges, T. L. TELLERS.
Jacob, E. Walter, J.
Lalor, P. Hughes, W. H.
Leach, J.
Maxwell, W. PAIRED OFF.
Milton, Lord Godson, R.
Morrison, J. Wood, Col.
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