HC Deb 23 April 1839 vol 47 cc470-4
Mr. Harvey

rose to call the attention of the House to the notice he had given last evening, for rescinding the standing order on Enclosure Bills. The House was aware that the object of his notice was, to enforce the standing orders, which provided that in all enclosure bills a suitable spot should be set apart for the recreation of the people; but this laudable object had been laxly looked after, and his purpose, therefore, was to frame such a new regulation as would enable committees on such bills to avail themselves to the full of that beneficial order. He must say, however, that while committees were composed of Gentlemen more or less interested in the matter before them, it was not surprising that there was no one found on such occasions to guard the rights of the labouring classes. The standing order for which his motion was intended as a substitute was, nevertheless, framed for that purpose; although its origin had been neglected, and it had been gradually allowed to subside into a nullity. He would now submit his amended order to the consideration of the House, which was expressed as follows:—"That the second special standing order to be observed on enclosure bills be rescinded, and the following order be substituted:—'That in all bills for enclosing commons or waste lands, provision be made for leaving an open space in the most appropriate situation, sufficient for purposes of exercise and recreation of the neighbouring population; and that the committee on the bill have before them the number of acres proposed to be enclosed, as also of the population in the parishes or places in which the land to be enclosed is situate; and also to see, that provision is made for the efficient fencing of the allotment, for the investment of the same in the overseers of the parish in which such open space is reserved, and for the efficient making and permanent maintenance of the fences by such parish, to be paid out of the poor-rate thereof; and that in any case where the information hereby required is not given, and the required provisions are not made in the bill, the committee on the same be directed specially to report to the House the reasons for not complying with such standing order." He had examined a variety of the "breviates" of enclosure bills passing through the House, and he could only wish that the same attention had been displayed to the observance of the standing orders, with respect to the rights of the poor, as the clergy had evinced in looking after their interests. In one case he observed the clergyman claimed an allotment in lieu of the small tithes of geese, and the piece of ground set apart to him on that claim was worth 4l. a year. He had no objection that the clergyman should have plenty of accommodation for all the geese in his parish; but in that case, the proportion to be set apart for the poor should also be attended to. In one bill before the House, extending to many thousand acres, there were only five acres to be set apart for the poor; but one-fourteenth of the whole was proposed to be set apart for the lord of the manor. In another, no account was given of the quantity to be enclosed; but one-fourteenth was again set apart for the Lord of the Manor, and the allotment so to be set aside was to be enclosed at the expense of the general fund. In the Great Milton Enclosure Bill the quantity was 1,300 acres, while the allotment for the poor was only three acres and "not more." But the Lord of the Manor had one-sixteenth of the whole. In another enclosure bill of 500 acres, no allotment whatever was specified to be set apart for the recreation of the poor of the parish or district. In the Congleton Enclosure, county of Cambridge, it was provided that the quantity to be set apart should not exceed six acres for the use of the working classes, and in many others there was no account given of the quantity of acres to be enclosed, nor of the relative proportion, nor population. In the Northumberland Enclosure Bill, which included an extent of 10,000 acres, it is stipulated that the quantity shall not exceed twenty acres, nor be less than ten. And the very dangerous power was given to commissioners to knock down all cottages on the waste which appeared to them to be encroachments, on giving three months notice. In these days of commissionerships, he thought it would not be improper to have a "poor man's commissioner," to see that suitable reservations were made of ground for the recreation of the labouring classes, and to protect their rights and interests. Land might have been occupied on the waste for twenty years by a poor industrious man—the land which he might have brought into culture by his own industry after returning from his daily toil—and yet, because some great man wished to have the place included in his park, nothing was to prevent some one of these commissioners from destroying the poor man's property. It was most important that the House should throw its legislative protection over the poor, for the spirit of the times and symptoms moving around them were too plain to justify the neglect of the rights of the labouring classes. The hon. Member then brought forward his motion.

Lord G. Somerset

fully concurred in the purport of the hon. Gentleman's resolution, but begged to call his attention and that of the House to what seemed to him something more than a formal objection to its passing without further consideration. In that part of the resolution which went to afford additional exercise and recreation to the people, he wholly concurred, but when the hon. Gentleman went to ask the House to lay down as a standing order the necessity of paying out of the poor-rates in the case of every enclosure bill the expense of fencing the portion of ground allotted for such purposes, he could not help thinking that in point of form there was very considerable objection to the hon. Gentleman's resolution. A regulation imposing the necessity of taking money out of the public purse ought, in his (Lord G. Somerset's opinion, to be embodied in a regular act of Parliament. Though it might be possible to bring this resolution within the general rules of the House, yet he thought they would be straining those rules very far, and departing from their constitutional spirit, if they were to pass it in the manner proposed. He did not object to its principle; on the contrary, he thought the principle of the resolution was highly deserving of support. Perhaps the Speaker would state whether it would not be a more regular course to have the resolution embodied in an Act of Parliament than to pass it in its present shape; or perhaps the hon. Gentleman would consent to withdraw the objectionable portion of his resolution.

The Speaker

said, that in consequence of what had just fallen from the noble Lord, he felt it his duty to state, that one of his principal duties was to watch the proceedings of that House, and that when a precedent was about to be made which appeared to him a new one, or one which had not been clearly anticipated, to draw to it the attention of the House. This seemed to him to be in some respects a new proceeding. Here was a standing order of the House by which it was proposed, that a tax, large or small, it did not signify as regarded the precedent, but that a certain tax should be imposed. This resolution appeared to him, therefore, to be one which it would not be advisable for the House to adopt without careful consideration. The object which the hon. Gentleman had in view might be a very proper one, and might, perhaps, be met with the insertion of these words, "That provision be made for attaining the same." But he (the Speaker) submitted, that laying down specifically and positively in a resolution of this kind, that in all cases of enclosure a certain tax should be made in a particular form upon the people, was a course which the House ought not to sanction, without very careful consideration. He was not expressing any opinion for or against the resolution, but merely stating, that in its present form, they ought not to adopt it without further consideration.

Mr. Pease

supported the principle of the resolution, but protested against that part of the statement of the hon. Mover which implied, that they represented the feelings of a particular class of the community only, and were disinclined to protect the interests of the poor.

Mr. Harvey

said, that he was so well pleased to hear the observations which had fallen from the noble Lord, and entered so much into their spirit, that he would readily concur in any suggestion likely to give unanimity to that or some such resolution; and after what had been said by the Speaker, respecting the mode of defraying the expenses of fencing in, and keeping so, the different portions of ground allotted for the benefit of the people, he would, with the permission of the House, withdraw the words, "To be paid out of the poor-rate thereof."

Mr. Aglionby

would not oppose the resolution, but he thought it would be much more safe if they were to say at once, that they thought it most important for the public at large, and for the interests of the poor in particular, that there should be grounds for their recreation and exercise, and that the expenses of establishing such should be paid out of the public purse, or by the parishes which were to receive the benefit of them.

Mr. Slaney

observed, that this was a case in which the House gave to property in the neighbourhood of populous towns an additional value, but in doing so said to the owners of it, that there should be a small portion of it allotted for the welfare of the inhabitants. As a matter of justice, that appeared to him to be a very fair exchange between the parties. Property of very little value was rendered of very considerable value through the agency of Parliament, and he thought it a very fair demand to make in return, that a small portion of that property should be set apart for the benefit of the public.

Resolution as altered agreed to.

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